Wednesday 21 March 2018

'We see them drowning -- but we can't prevent it'

Over 800 die in Pakistan floods. 'God knows where it will end' says rescuer

Anwar Shakir and Farhan Sharif in Islamabad

Pakistan's death toll from flash floods in the country's north-west rose to more than 800 yesterday as a rescue service spokesman warned: "God knows where it will end" and thousands remained stranded in the region's worst storms.

The flooding caused by record-breaking rainfalls has caused massive destruction in the past week, especially in the north-west province of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, which officials said had experienced the worst deluge since 1929.

Though floodwaters receded yesterday in the hard-hit northwest, an official said the damage to roads, bridges and communications networks has hindered rescuers, while the threat of disease now looms as some evacuees arrived in camps with fever, diarrhoea and skin problems.

The UN estimates that up to one million people have been affected by the monsoon.

"We can see people drowning but we can't go into the water because of its high pressure," said Mujahid Khan, a spokesman for the Edhi rescue service.

"The relief efforts of everyone combined is only five per cent of what is required," he said, adding, "God knows where it will end."

The final death toll will be much higher than current estimates, provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said yesterday.

Over 30,000 Pakistani army troops engaged in rescue and relief work had evacuated 19,000 trapped people by last night, said army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas.

"The level of devastation is so widespread, so large," he said. "It is quite possible that in many areas there is damage, deaths, which may not have been reported."

The flood deaths come after 152 people were killed when a plane crashed in heavy rain near the capital two days ago. Homes and bridges have collapsed in the rain, live electric wires have fallen into the waters and families have been swept away.

Floods may reach the southern province of Sindh within the next few days, information minister Sumsam Bokhari said. The Sindh government ordered people living along the banks of the River Indus to be evacuated immediately. Pakistani army troops equipped with life jackets, motorboats and heavy rafts were called in yesterday to help move local families to safety.

Pakistani television channels showed images of people on flooded roads grabbing wreckage to keep themselves from being swept away, makeshift boats and drowning goats and buffalo.

"All the houses in my village have been destroyed and now it's simply a fight for survival," Mehmood Khan, a tribal elder, said in South Waziristan.

"We can see people drowning but we can't go into the water because of its high pressure," Khan said yesterday. "Food supplies have started to run out. We haven't eaten in 48 hours and the scant food supplies we saved for women and children may not last long."

Sunday Independent

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