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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Over 900 Dead as Floods Sweep Asia

Reuters Lehaz Ali, July 31, 2010 12:02 PM
Army soldiers use a boat to evacuate a family through a main road in Nowshera, located in Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province July 31, 2010.Photograph by: Adrees Latif, Reuters

Floods sweeping Asia have killed more than 900 people, officials said Saturday, washing away thousands of homes and destroying infrastructure in some of the worst scenes in living memory.

Heavy monsoon rains exacted the heaviest toll in northwest Pakistan, with 800 confirmed dead and the regional capital Peshawar cut off, while the deluge killed another 65 people in mountainous areas across the border in Afghanistan.

Floods devastating northeast China have killed at least 37 people and destroyed 25,000 homes, with the authorities racing to intercept vessels that broke their moorings and retrieve barrels full of explosive chemicals headed for a dam.

The worst floods in living memory destroyed homes and swathes of farmland in northwest Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir, with the main highway to China reportedly cut and the military deployed to help isolated communities.

The United Nations said almost a million people had been affected by the Pakistan flooding. Footage shot from helicopters showed people clinging to walls and rooftops as gushing waters rampaged through inundated villages.

Others walked barefoot through the water to seek safety, carrying their belongings and with children on their shoulders.

"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. Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, and the districts of Swat and Shangla were cut off from the rest of country as roads and highways were submerged, he said.

Muqaddir Khan, 25, who arrived with nine other family members, told AFP that he had lost everything in the deluge. "I laboured hard in Saudi Arabia for three years and set up a small shop which was swept away by flood in minutes. I have lost everything," Khan said.

The European Commission said it had given Pakistan 30 million euros (39-million-dollar) in humanitarian aid to help the most needy, including those hit by flooding. "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.

Pakistan’s weather bureau said an "unprecedented" 312 millimetres (12 inches) of rain had fallen in 36 hours in the northwest but predicted only scattered showers during coming days.

Rescue teams across the border in Afghanistan struggled to reach areas cut off by flooded roads and the threat of insurgent attacks, said Abdul Matin Edrok, head of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority. "Initial information sent by our provincial offices shows that nearly 70 people have been killed and tens injured. We estimate more than 1,000 families have been affected but these figures may rise," he said. Most of those affected were in northeast Kapisa province, where 31 people died, he said.

Edrok said food and medical aid was being distributed using some Afghan and NATO coalition helicopters, and that the rains causing the floods had now ended.

But authorities in northeastern China predicted more heavy rain for central and eastern parts of the hard-hit Jilin province, where at least 35 people are missing and more than 364,000 people have been evacuated. Water, electricity and telecommunication services were cut in parts of the province, while train services in the town of Kouqian were suspended after the railway station was surrounded by flood waters, previous reports said. More than 95,000 buildings have been damaged in the floods, with 25,000 destroyed, Xinhua news agency reported. Elsewhere in Jilin, hundreds of soldiers and boats were mobilised to stop 12 vessels being swept down the Songhua River towards a major dam, Xinhua said. The vessels, weighing up to 12 tonnes each, broke their moorings early Saturday and were heading towards the Fengman dam.

Further downstream, hundreds of workers continued to retrieve 3,000 barrels full of explosive chemicals that were washed by flood waters into the Songhua River. The barrels are being swept down the river at a faster pace than before, after the Fengman dam floodgates were opened Friday afternoon, and experts are worried the barrels could explode if they hit a dam further downstream.

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