Monday 23 October 2017

Authorities battle to save historic city from floods

Ashraf Khan in Karachi

SURGING floods swept into a large town in southern Pakistan last night as authorities struggled to build new dams with clay and stone to prevent one of the area's biggest cities from suffering the same fate.

Almost all of Sujawal's 250,000 residents were driven out of the town before the water rushed in, but the damage to homes, clinics and schools added to the widespread devastation the floods have caused across Pakistan, said Hadi Baksh, a disaster management official in southern Sindh province.

The floodwaters also threatened Thatta, a historic city of some 350,000 people who have mostly fled to higher ground.

Thatta is the base of operations for local authorities trying to cope with a disaster that has overwhelmed the Pakistani government and international partners who have stepped in to help.

Authorities rushed to build makeshift levees across the road connecting Sujawal and Thatta, parts of which were already flooded, Baksh said.

The floods began in the mountainous northwest about a month ago with the onset of monsoon rains and have moved slowly down the country toward the coast in the south, inundating vast swaths of prime agricultural land and damaging or destroying more than one million homes.

More than eight million people are in need of emergency assistance across the country.

The United Nations, the Pakistani army and a host of local and international relief groups have been rushing aid workers, medicine, food and water to the affected regions, but are unable to reach many people.

The US said last Saturday that it would deploy an additional 18 helicopters to help with the relief effort. The US military is already operating 15 helicopters and three C-130 aircraft in the country, the US Embassy said in a statement.

The floodwaters that hit Sujawal yesterday surged into the town after breaking through a levee on the swollen Indus River two days earlier. The town is about 150km south-east of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, and 25km south-east of Thatta.

Authorities in Sujawal were trying to limit the flood damage, but the water level has already risen up to 5ft (1.5m) in the centre of town and 10ft (3m) in the surrounding villages, said Anwarul Haq, the top official in Sujawal.

Many of the people who fled Sujawal and Thatta headed to Makli, a hill just south of Thatta that contains a vast Muslim graveyard. About half a million flood victims are camped out on the hill, Baksh said. Most lack any form of shelter and are desperate for food and water.

Irish Independent

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