175,000 forced to flee as Pakistan flood waters smash embankment
HunDREDS of thousands of Pakistanis fled flood waters yesterday after the surging River Indus smashed through embankments in two places, but many refused to leave the danger zone while others took shelter in an ancient graveyard for Muslim saints.
About 175,000 people are believed to have fled their homes overnight in the southern city of Thatta after the embankment protecting the city was breached, said Manzoor Sheikh, a senior government official. Authorities were trying to repair the embankment, about 75 miles southeast of the major coastal city of Karachi.
“The situation is getting worse,” said local disaster official Hadi Baksh Kalhoro. “The water is flowing into a nearby canal endangering Thatta city.”
A second breach occurred in the Soorjani levee in the same region, said Gulab Shah, who is helping relief efforts. “It is beyond control now,” he said. “Thousands of people are sitting with their cattle and belongings and their lives are in danger. They are not willing to leave.”
“I have nothing. The government has done nothing”
Dozens of people took shelter in the Makli Hill burial ground, one of the largest such sites in the world. The graveyard, which is not believed to be in danger, houses the ornate tombs of hundreds of Muslim saints dating from the 14th century.
Protesters blocked a nearby highway with burning tires. They said they heeded evacuation orders, but now had no food, water or shelter.
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.
In Swat, the first region hit by the floods, farmer Shah-e-Roon doesn’t have the energy, money or support from Pakistan’s government to help Madyan recover from the waters that destroyed the small town nearly a
A month ago. He has been walking for two days with a 20kg sack of wheat on his back. Food shortages caused by the disaster have sent prices soaring and the only market he can reach is many miles away.
“How can think about rebuilding? I have no way of making money and I am just too tired,” said the 50-year-old farmer.
Madyan, in the northwest Swat valley, looks more like an earthquake zone than a floodstricken area.
Four-storey hotels that fuelled the local economy vanished. Buildings have been flattened, with cars sandwiched between slabs of concrete. Roads were dragged down and all that’s left behind are 100ft dirt cliffs crumbling into a river.
Pakistan’s government was heavily criticised after its sluggish response to the floods but could redeem itself by being more visible in the rebuilding effort. There is no sign of that in Madyan.
Sajad Ibrahim’s father worked in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry for 36 years to save enough to build five homes for his family. Flood waters pulverised them along with his business.
“I have nothing. The government has done nothing. How can we go on like this without anyone’s help?” he said.
Two soldiers have been bulldozing rocks and cement chunks in Madyan. They have only cleared an area about 30ft by 100ft in seven days.
Another soldier encourages everyone who walks along the muddy area to carry a stone and place it in a pile near workers who are rebuilding the foundations of a collapsed bridge.
Spirits had been rising in Madyan over the last year. Hotels overlooking the Swat river and beautiful lush mountains had started to attract tourists again after the army had pushed out Taleban insurgents.
The government promised to invest heavily in infrastructure, schools and hospitals and build up security and police forces.
Some, like Mohammad Azam, were ecstatic. He fled after the Taleban warned him to close his “immoral” DVD shop or face death and then rushed back when it was safe and restarted his business.
Little did he know that floods would pound his new thirdfloor shop into the river.
young flood victim drinks her morning tea while taking refuge with her family