Early on the morning of Nov. 16, Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh and showed no mercy. The death toll continues to rise even today. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. But, nearly 24 hours in advance of the storm, Hassan Mashriqui, assistant extension professor of coastal engineering with LSU, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, gave Bangladesh emergency officials storm surge maps so detailed that area agencies were able to take action, saving countless lives.
"It's nice to know that LSU's capabilities helped people there before disaster struck," said Mashriqui. "It's the practical application of all of our theoretical research."
On Nov. 12, he saw that the cyclone had developed in the Bay of Bengal. Watching its progress closely, he contacted Imtiaz Hossain, assistant to Robert Twilley, the very next day. Twilley, associate vice chancellor of research and economic development at LSU, director of the Coastal Systems and Society Agenda, professor of coastal sciences and leader of the Shell Coastal Environmental Modeling Laboratory, or CEML, immediately gave Mashriqui access to a large portion of CEML's supercomputing capabilities to facilitate the development of storm surge models.
The following day, Mashriqui went to Tampa, Fla., to give a lecture at a hurricane conference. It was from his hotel room that he was able to access the LSU supercomputing network and run the first model. What he saw sent him scrambling to contact Bangladesh officials.
"These models are incredibly accurate and highly detailed," Mashriqui said. "You can pinpoint events down to small counties and towns. We were looking at a 10 -- 12 foot storm surge that would devastate anything in its path."
Through an LSU student whose father is employed at the Bangladesh Ministry of Food and Disaster Management in the Office of Disaster Management and Relief Bhaban, a unit that operates much like FEMA, Mashriqui was then able to communicate his findings to dozens of agencies who could then act by raising the danger signal to its highest level, moving people out of harm's way and concentrating relief efforts before the storm even hit.
A native of the area, Mashriqui first began running storm surge models on the Bay of Bengal several years ago in conjunction with LSU's Center for Computation & Technology, or CCT, forming the Bay of Bengal Cyclone Surge Modeling Program. This project provides modeling support for the Bay of Bengal basin and strives to build partnerships with appropriate agencies.
"The advance notice we were able to provide certainly saved lives and helped to lessen the devastation," said Mashriqui. "When you can pinpoint the areas of impact and determine the level of storm surge that far ahead of landfall, it provides critical time for agencies and officials to focus energy and resources to the areas that will need them most."
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