PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential monsoon rains have killed more than 400 people in Pakistan in three days and affected at least 600,000, a minister said Friday.
Hundreds of homes and thousands of hectares (acres) of cultivated land were destroyed in the northwest and Pakistani Kashmir, with the main highway to China reportedly cut off and communities left isolated.
“This is the worst ever flood in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the country’s history,” provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told a news conference.
“At least 408 deaths have been confirmed in floods and rain related incidents across the province,” he said.
Another 150 people are missing, he said adding that floods washed away 200 kilometres (125 miles) of main roads and link roads.
“At least 600,000 people have been affected and the number was likely to go up as water levels continue to rise in rivers in Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsada, the minister said.
Swat, Shangla and Peshawar were cut off from the rest of country as roads and highways were submerged in water, he said.
The death toll dwarfed even the 152 killed when a Pakistani passenger jet crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad on Wednesday and capped a week of tragedy for the nation’s 167 million people.
Relief organisations earlier put the toll at 325 dead in the northwestern province, where impoverished families live in remote mountain villages.
“We have so far gathered the figure of 325 deaths due to flash floods in the northwest and (Pakistan-controlled) Kashmir,” Anwer Kazmi, spokesman for Pakistan’s largest charity the Edhi Foundation told AFP.
“Our officials have got reports of at least 300 deaths in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province while 25 people died in Kashmir’s capital Muzaffarabad.
“We have not collected the complete figures from some districts and fear the number of casualties is much higher,” he said.
The meteorological department said an “unprecedented” 312 millimetres (12 inches) of rain had fallen in the last 36 hours in the northwest but predicted only scattered showers during coming days.
Provincial relief commissioner Shakil Qadir said the worst-hit area was Malakand, where 102 people died and 16,000 were marooned because bridges have collapsed and road links been cut.
Qadir said that around 2,800 Pakistani holidaymakers had been stranded in the Swat valley, where the military maintains a heavy presence after a massive operation against Taliban insurgents last year.
Efforts are being made to airlift them to safety in helicopters, he said.
The dead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa included 29 people killed when a landslide hit their houses Friday, police said.
Women and children were among the dead. The landslide caused by heavy monsoon rain destroyed 11 houses on a mountain in Shangla district.
“Twenty-nine people have died. I think the death toll will rise. There are women and children among the dead,” senior police officer Qazi Jamil told AFP.
The Karakoram Highway, which links Pakistan to China, was closed as rains washed away a bridge in Shangla district, also cutting off Gilgit-Baltistan from other parts of the country, media reports said.
In Pakistani Kashmir, another 22 people were killed and more than 30 injured Thursday as dozens of houses collapsed due to heavy rains, said the regional prime minister Sardar Atique Ahmed.
The army said it sent boats to rescue stranded people and army engineers were attempting to open roads and divert the waters from key routes.
The monsoon in southwestern Baluchistan has killed 25 people over the past few days, senior officer of the disaster management authority Ataullah Khan told AFP in the provincial capital Quetta on Friday.
Flash floods have affected eight districts, he said, adding that around 275,000 people have been affected and more than 15,000 houses have been destroyed.