Saturday, 31 July 2010

:: Pakistan: Banjir


Floods trap thousands in Pakistan

Thousands have been forced to flee the
floods in the northwest [Reuters]

Eight hundred people are now known to have been killed in the worst floods in Pakistan's history as rescue workers attempted to reach thousands of people stranded by torrential monsoon rains.

More than a million people had been affected by the floods on Saturday. Bloated rivers have washed away villages and triggered devastating landslides throughout the northwest of the country.

Vast swathes of farmlands have been destroyed, and entire cities have been cut off after being lashed by the heaviest rains in living memory.

Pakistani officials warned that more people could be affected as they expected river levels to continue to rise in coming days.

The city of Peshawar has been entirely cut off from the rest of the country, and the Pakistani military has sent boats and helicopters to surrounding areas to rescue stranded villagers.

Meanwhile, army engineers were working around the clock to divert floodwaters away from major roads so that rescue teams could reach stricken areas.

Rising death toll

Officials warn that the death toll is almost certain to rise, as many areas of the country are inaccessible.

"We have not collected the complete figures from some districts and fear the number of casualties is much higher," Anwer Kazmi, a spokesman for the Pakistani charity the Edhi Foundation, said.

Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman, reporting from Pakistan's capital Islamabad, said that the government there was coordinating a response.

"They have managed to deploy three battalions of the military, both by air, on the water and by foot," he said. "We estimate there are 2400 personnel working to help the survivors of the flooding."

A UN situation report into the crisis said that many parts of the affected area have still not been reached. "Search and rescue as well as assessments operations are still patchy and do not cover the whole of the affected area," it said.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa's information minister said that a lack of suitable equipment was hampering rescue efforts.

"A rescue operation using helicopters cannot be conducted due to the bad weather, while there are only 48 rescue boats available for rescue," he said.

The floods came after what meteorologists described as an "unprecedented" 12 inches of rain fell in just 36 hours. Experts believe the worst of the rainfall is now over, but the extent of the damage is still being assessed.

Poor weather this week also may have been a factor in Wednesday's Airblue plane crash that killed 152 people near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Source: Al Jazeera and Agencies

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