Pakistan monsoon floods kill hundreds

Rescue workers and troops in north-west Pakistan were on Saturday struggling to reach thousands of people affected by the worst floods in living memory as the death toll rose past 400.

Hundreds of homes and vast swathes of farmland were destroyed in the north-west and Pakistani Kashmir, with the main highway to China reportedly cut and communities isolated as monsoon rains caused flash floods and landslides.

“This is the worst ever flood in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the country’s history,” provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said on Friday.

“At least 408 deaths have been confirmed in floods and rain-related incidents across the province,” he said.

Another 150 people were missing in the north-western province, where impoverished families live in remote mountain villages.

At least 600 000 people have been affected and the number was likely to escalate as river levels continue to rise, the minister said.

Peshawar, the main city in the north-west, and the districts of Swat and Shangla were cut off from the rest of country as roads and highways were submerged in water, he said.

The army said it had sent boats and helicopters to rescue stranded people and military engineers were attempting to open roads and divert the waters from key routes.

The death toll dwarfed the 152 killed when a Pakistani passenger jet crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad on Wednesday and capped a week of tragedy for the nation of 167-million people.

Relief organisations had earlier put the toll at 325 dead.

“We have so far gathered the figure of 325 deaths due to flash floods in the north-west and [Pakistan-controlled] Kashmir,” said Anwer Kazmi, spokesperson for Pakistan’s largest charity the Edhi Foundation.

“We have not collected the complete figures from some districts and fear the number of casualties is much higher,” he said.

The meteorological department said an “unprecedented” 312 millimetres of rain had fallen in the previous 36 hours in the north-west but predicted only scattered showers during coming days.

Provincial relief commissioner Shakil Qadir said the worst-hit area was Malakand, where 102 people died and 16 000 were marooned because bridges had collapsed and road links been cut.

Qadir said that about 2 800 Pakistani holidaymakers had been stranded in the Swat valley, where the military maintains a heavy presence after a massive operation against Taliban insurgents last year.

Efforts were being made to airlift them to safety in helicopters, he said.

The Karakoram Highway, which links Pakistan to China, was closed as rains washed away a bridge in Shangla district, also cutting off Gilgit-Baltistan from other parts of the country, media reports said.

North-west Pakistan has been hardest hit but monsoon rains have also killed 25 people in the south-western province of Baluchistan over the past few days, said senior officer of the disaster management authority Ataullah Khan in the provincial capital Quetta.

Flash floods had affected eight districts, he said, adding that about 275 000 people had been affected and more than 15 000 houses destroyed. - AFP

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