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01 Aug 2010 08:03
With roads and bridges washed away, rescuers were on Sunday struggling to reach people in north-west Pakistan trapped by the worst floods in living memory which have killed 800 so far.
The United Nations said one million people had been affected, with whole towns cut off after days of torrential monsoon rains triggered flash floods and landslides.
“We still do not have the full picture because of the breakdown in communications, we have still difficulties to reach out to our offices in Nowshera, in Swat, in Charsada,” Manuel Bessler, head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA) in Pakistan, told the BBC.
“We have a planning figure of one million people affected directly by the floods.”
Thousands of homes and vast swathes of farmland have been destroyed in the north-west and Pakistani Kashmir, with the main highway to China reportedly cut.
Hundreds of people have died in the hardest-hit province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where many impoverished families live in remote mountain villages.
“This is the worst ever flood in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the country’s history,” provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.
“The death toll in floods and rain-related incidents has risen up to 800 across the province,” he said, with another 150 people missing.
Pakistan’s weather bureau said an “unprecedented” 312 millimetres of rain had fallen in 36 hours in the north-west but predicted only scattered showers during coming days.
In neighbouring Afghanistan, flash floods have killed at least 65 people and affected more than 1 000 families, officials said.
Pakistani television and photos shot from helicopters showed people clinging to the walls and roof tops of damaged houses as gushing waters rampaged through inundated villages.
Carrying their belongings and with children on their shoulders, some walked barefoot through the water to seek safety.
More than 3 700 houses had been swept away by floods and the number of homeless people was rising, the minister said.
The regional capital Peshawar, a city of three million, was cut off from the rest of the country as roads and highways were submerged, he said.
An Agence France-Presse reporter on Saturday saw hundreds of people streaming into the city, many of them without any belongings.
Muqaddir Khan (25) who arrived with nine other family members, told AFP he had lost everything.
“I laboured hard in Saudi Arabia for three years and set up a small shop which was swept away by flood in minutes,” Khan said.
Razia Bibi (48) said she and her family spent the night awake as water kept rising.
“My house is now gone under water and I could escape with a few belongings,” Bibi told AFP.
Authorities are using school buildings as emergency shelters for those affected by the floods.
The army said it had sent boats and helicopters to rescue stranded people and its engineers were trying to open roads and divert water from key routes.
The European Commission said it had given €30-million ($39-million) in humanitarian aid to help the most needy.
“Pakistan has been hit by terrible floods and more rain is forecast. Our thoughts are with those affected by them,” said humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.
The flooding capped a week of tragedy for Pakistan after an airliner crashed into hills near Islamabad Wednesday, killing 152 people on board.
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.
Northwest Pakistan has been hardest hit but monsoon rains have also killed 25 people in the southwestern province of Baluchistan over the past few days.
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