Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/261

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255
THE STORM-WAVE IN BENGAL.

escaped who had not been saved by a tree — were not without means of supporting life until assistance came. They opened their pits, dried the grain in the sun, and, though the misery they had to endure was very great, they were saved from the horrors of starvation.

There was a severe cyclone in the Bay of Bengal on the night of October 31. But it was not the wind which was the main agent of destruction. It was the storm-wave, sweeping along to a height of from ten to thirty feet, and in some places, where it met with any resistance, mounting still higher. What was the real direction of the wave is still a matter of doubt. Sir Richard Temple says that he found the prevalent opinion to be that it came first from the sea up the Megna with salt water, and then the cyclone turned round and rolled the fresh water from the river downwards, the salt and fresh waters being thus piled up at the point of confluence, and rushing all over the surrounding tracts. But the lieutenant-governor does not think that the facts he himself observed are in accordance with this account. In the extreme east of the scene of devastation, it seems that the direction of the inundation was from the south-west — that is, from the sea. But the almost unvarying direction of the bent, broken, and uprooted trees, in the parts to which he paid especial attention, convinced him the storm broke from the north and north-west — that is, from the upper reach of the Megna; and this view is corroborated by a circumstance which he notices in speaking of the sufferings of the inhabitants. He says that there must have been much trouble about water at first. But either the drinking-tanks speedily recovered from the brackishness left by the sea-wave, or else the storm-wave must have mainly consisted of fresh water; for the drinking-tanks were not brackish when he and his party tasted them a few days afterwards. The disaster came without any warning. In the evening the weather was a little windy and hazy, and had been somewhat hot; but the people retired to rest apprehending nothing. About midnight there arose a cry of "The water is on us!" and a great wave burst over the country, followed by another, and again by a third, all three rushing rapidly southwards. The air and wind were very cold, so that some who had escaped to the trees fell off from numbness and exhaustion; but the temperature of the water itself was noticeably warm. The cottages were swept away with the people in them, and were immediately broken up, and where the trees abounded the people were floated into them. There was no need to climb the trees; the water carried the victims of the storm-wave into the branches, and those who held on firmly enough were saved. If all who were saved were saved by trees, the trees must have been very numerous; for even in the worst case, that of the island of Hattia, where thirty thousand perished, there were twenty-four thousand saved, and in the adjacent island of Dukhin Shahbazore Sir Richard Temple calculates that two hundred and fifty-one thousand people were saved, which seems an enormous number to have owed the preservation of life to being caught in branches. But in some places there were great gaps in the lines of trees, and there the destruction of life was unchecked, while again numbers of trees were swept away. "So numerous were the trees torn up by the roots that they virtually barricaded the passage out to sea by the western branch of the Megna, so that Sir Richard Temple could not approach by sea the devastated tracts on that side.

The survivors showed much quiet fortitude. In a few hours they were at work drying their grain, and they made frame-works with broken branches, over which they threw sheets and cloths, such as they had about them at the moment, and so made what Sir Richard Temple calls little tent-like habitations on the sites of their former houses. But a scene of the most dreadful desolation spread all around them. Dead bodies lay and soon decomposed on every side. The cows and oxen were almost all gone, but the buffaloes had for the most escaped, through their great power of swimming. The bouts, great and small, which constitute the only means of carriage in these tracts, filling the place of carts, were all lost, having been "jammed and smashed up together," or wrecked or carried far inland; and not only was a great part of their wealth thus taken from the people, but they were deprived of the means of communicating with, and seeking help from, the mainland. The whole aspect of the country was changed; for the trees were no longer green, but appeared to be of a drab color, with bare branches or dead leaves. When the storm burst the rice-crop was ripening for the harvest, and where the plant had not advanced beyond the stage of flowering the crop was totally destroyed; but it was saved where the grain had formed or begun to form. So abundant, however, would the crop have been if it had not