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Pakistan 'super flood' death toll rises

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 02 August 2010

The death toll in Pakistan's worst flood in 80 years exceeds 1,100, with tens of thousands of people trapped or stranded in what Médecins Sans Frontières tells Channel 4 News is a "mass case emergency".

The death toll continues to rise as Pakistan's worst flood in 80 years washes away entire villages, leaving hundreds of thousands of people trapped or stranded.(Image: Reuters)

Heavy rains from Iran and Afghanistan have combined with Pakistan's monsoon rains to flood vast areas, ravaging the north western Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Latest reports put the death toll as high as 1,100, as more than 30,000 Pakistani troops are deployed to rescue those stranded.

"Aerial monitoring is being conducted, and it has shown that whole villages have washed away, animals have drowned and grain storages have washed away," said Latifur Rehman, spokesman for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority. "The destruction is massive and devastating."

More than 20,700 people have been safely evacuated from stricken areas but aid agencies say that more than 27,000 remain trapped in the more remote areas, including Kohistan, Nowshera, Dir and the Swat Valley.

Over the week almost 700 people drowned in the Peshawar valley, which includes the districts of Nowshera and Charsada, and 115 others are still missing, Khan said. The army has deployed 43 military helicopters and over 100 boats on rescue missions, said Rehman.

The picturesque Swat Valley, once known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan", has borne the brunt of the floods according to army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas.

"Virtually no bridge has been left in Swat. All major and minor bridges have gone, destroyed completely," he said. The floods have destroyed more than 14,600 houses and 22 schools in the Swat alone.

'Major emergency'
Brice De La Vigne, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operation coordintor for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told Channel 4 News the situation was mass case emergency with two distinct challenges: those stranded on the mountain hills due to washed out bridges, and those marooned in the valley still wading through two meters of water.

The around 50 per cent of the valley's 1.7m population are stranded, he said. He added: "It is a major emergency - there are pockets of people completely out of reach."

Mr De La Vigne said MSF is currently opening mobile drinking water centres in the Swat Valley and is awaiting clearance from the Pakistan authorities for a helicopter to assess those stranded in the mountains.

The UN estimates that a million people across the nation have been affected by the flash floods and landslides in the northwest, with the risk of death and disease growing as meteorologists predict more rain to come.

"There is now a real danger of the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, asthma, skin allergies and perhaps cholera in these areas," Shaharyar Bangash, World Vision Pakistan's Programmes Manager, said in a statement.

In Nowshera, people waded through flood waters to reach dry land as commercial areas succumbed to total submersion.

Local market trader Tariq Sheikh said the entire market had been washed away. 

"There was an entire market here. I had a storage area in the market, consisting of three rooms. There were goods worth 300,000 rupees (US$3530) in there. All that is gone now. No one has come here to inquire about our well-being, no official, no political person. We are having drinking water problems; food is short," Mr Sheikh said.

Flood and government officials said massive flood waves would enter the southern Sindh province between Tuesday and Thursday this week – threatening property and farmland scattered on the river banks and in low-lying areas.

"A super flood of this magnitude will be the first in 18 to 20 years to hit Sindh, but major cities like Karachi and Hyderabad were unlikely to be affected," Jameel Soomro, a spokesman for the provincial Sindh government, told reporters.

The US embassy in Islamabad said it was providing immediate aid, including two water filtration units and more than 50,000 halal meals for affected areas.

On Friday it provided rescue helicopters to rescue 400 people stranded in flood zones. It has also announced it will provide 12 prefabricated steel bridges as temporary replacements for some of those damaged. 

In Afghanistan, dozens of people were killed and thousands had to be rescued from flash floods in the north east. 

"The level of devastation is so widespread, so large, it is quite possible that in many areas there are damages, there are deaths which may not have been reported," Major-General Abbas said last night. 

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