Hundreds missing after dam breaks in Pakistan

More than 400 people are still missing in a remote area of south-western Pakistan after heavy rains caused a large dam to burst, sweeping villagers into the Arabian Sea, a provincial official said on Friday.

At least 35 people are confirmed dead after the 150m-long Shakidor Dam burst late on Thursday near Pasni, a remote village in Baluchistan province. Between 400 and 500 people are still unaccounted for, said provincial minister Sher Jan Baluch.

“The army has started rescue operations to try to save as many lives as possible,” Baluch said. He said he fears some of the missing may have been swept into the sea, though others might be taking shelter in homes, nearby mountains or other surrounding areas.

More than 1 200 villagers have already been pulled alive from the waters by troops, helicopters and boats sent to the area, said Mudasser Butt, an army spokesperson in Quetta.

Major General Shaukat Sultan, the top spokesperson for President General Pervez Musharraf, refused to speculate how many people may have died.
Witnesses described seeing trucks and tankers swept out to sea.

“I can only say that troops have started the rescue work ... and they are trying to save the lives of people,” Sultan said.

The Shakidor dam was built in 2003 to help with irrigation in the area, but was unable to cope with more than a week of heavy rains. Telephone lines, roads and eight bridges in the area were also damaged, Butt said.

He said the troops diverted the flow of floodwaters to save other towns located near Pasni, about 650km south of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

Troops and local authorities were also supplying food, medicine and tents to the affected people in Pasni and elsewhere, he said, and added that 3 000 troops and paramilitary forces, backed by six helicopters and boats, are taking parts in the rescue operation.

Baluch said personnel from the Pakistan navy have also reached the affected areas to join the rescue work, but gave no other details.

Also on Friday, Rizwan Edhi, a spokesperson for the private Edhi Foundation, which provides nationwide emergency relief, said his group has sent ambulances and boats to the flooded areas.

Meanwhile, at least two people were killed elsewhere in Baluchistan when floodwaters overturned their bus early on Friday, officials said. Eighteen other people were reported missing in the accident.

And at least 30 soldiers were also missing after an avalanche buried their vehicles on a mountain road in north-western Pakistan early on Friday, Pakistan’s private Geo television reported, but gave no other details.

An army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the incident, but refused to make any speculation about the fate of the soldiers.

“We have lost contact with them, and efforts are under way to trace and rescue them.”

The soldiers were on their way to Terrah, a tribal region in North West Frontier province, when the incident occurred. He had no other details and Sultan was not immediately available for comment.

Pakistan has been hit by more than a week of rain and snow, which in some parts of the country were the heaviest in seven years, said Qamar-uz Zaman Chaudhry, the head of the nation’s meteorological department.

He said more severe weather is expected in the next two days.

In the past week, about 50 people have died in different parts of Pakistan, including the country’s mountainous north, due to the winter weather. Some homes collapsed because of heavy rains and snowfall, according to local media reports and government officials.—Sapa-AP

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