Rescue operations underway across Pakistan; Thousands ordered to evacuate from near rivers
Pakistan witnessed another day of deaths and devastation on Saturday as dozens of people were left dead and thousands stranded as a result of landslides and floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa amid “high to very high” floods in Kabul and Indus rivers.
Thousands of people living near flood-swollen rivers in Pakistan’s north were ordered to evacuate Saturday with no end in sight to monsoon rains.
Many rivers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have burst their banks, demolishing scores of buildings including a 150-room hotel that crumbled into a raging torrent.
The Nowshera region near the Kabul River was at risk of high-level floods as the water levels rose by 300,000 cusecs, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa flood warning cell cautioned on Saturday.
The cell further warned that the Adezai Bridge at the Kabul River were also susceptible to severe flooding. According to the latest reports received, water levels have not risen in the Kabul River and 315,282 cusecs of water easily flowed through into the Indus River.
Meanwhile, a rain emergency remained in place in several areas of the province in the wake of unprecedented rains that pushed most of the country into a crisis.
At present, more than half of Pakistan is under water and millions of people have been rendered homeless as a result of flash flooding generated by abnormal monsoon rains which have entered their eighth spell with no signs of subsiding.
According to the latest estimates, nearly 1,000 people, including 300 children, have lost their lives because of rains and resulting flooding that has impacted nearly 33 million people – almost 15 per cent of the country’s population.
A day after a rain emergency was declared in Swat, the district’s additional deputy commissioner, Abrar Wazir, said on Saturday that landslides and floods had claimed a total of 15 lives in different areas.
The additional deputy commissioner said in a statement that roads spread over 130 kilometres had been damaged and 15 bridges were completely destroyed due to floods so far, while over 100 houses and around 50 hotels and restaurants were also destroyed.
The official said a team had been constituted to estimate the extent of further damage. Later in the day, KP Secretary of Information and Public Relations Arshad Khan said that over 500,000 cusecs of water had flooded the province.
“The government has started rescue and relief efforts in all affected areas, while the work on the restoration of road infrastructure is going on on an emergency basis,” he told media persons in Swat.
Arshad also said that the helicopter used by KP CM had been deployed for the flood operations. “It will be used to rescue tourists stranded across the province and to provide food items to isolated areas.” The government has further sought more helicopters from the Pakistan Army, the official added.
By Saturday evening, the first helicopter from Kabal left for Kalam. Swat Deputy Commissioner Junaid Khan said that it would bring back tourists stranded in Kalam. “Once it lands, the tourists will be sent back home via special local transport,” he said.
There were reports of 30 tourists being stranded in Upper Dir as well. Deputy Commissioner Akmal Khan Khattak told media that they were safe and had been accommodated in hotels. “About 15 people are stranded on the left side of the river along with the hotel staff,” he added.
In Shangla, the district administration has started dispatching non-food relief items to all the tehsils, District Disaster Management Officer Muneeba Fatima told media.
She said that the district’s revenue staff was at the field collecting information on the damage. Separately, officials of Rescue 1122 say that seven people stranded near the Ranolia River in Kohistan have been rescued.
Twenty-two people were also evacuated from Kumrat after troops of the Peshawar corps established contact with them, according to a press release from the military’s media wing.
The Inter Services Public Relations press release said families from Islamabad were stranded in Kumrat due to sudden flash floods and could not be evacuated due to the bad weather.
“Continuous contact is maintained with them and those families have been shifted to safer places around those mountains tops. Those people are safe and will be evacuated by army aviation helicopters as and when weather permits,” the ISPR said, adding that a ground party was also ready from Khwazakhela for evacuation.
The ISPR requested the public not to travel towards Swat and its surrounding areas due to flash floods.
Meanwhile, Nowshera Deputy Commissioner Mir Reza Ozgen renewed his call for the relocation of the district’s residents to safer places as flow in Kabul River rose above 300,000 cusecs, resulting in a “very high flood” in the water body.
The flooding has caused widespread devastation in the district, submerging several villages.
On Friday, the Kabul River and Swat River experienced “very high floods” at several other locations, triggering evacuations by the authorities from low-lying areas and imposition of emergency in many districts.
Subsequently, calls were made for the evacuation of residents from Nowshera and Charsadda keeping in view the increased risk of flooding as water levels in the rivers rose and part of Munda headworks, which regulates the flow of the Swat River, collapsed.
The Nowshera DC urged for evacuations again Saturday morning, saying in a statement that there was a “very high flood” in the Kabul River in the district.
“The water level in the Kabul River in Nowshera has crossed 250,000 cusecs,” said the statement, adding the water level was rising further.
Meanwhile, the Nowshera DC appealed to citizens to move to safer locations. He said relief camps had been set up for people affected by floods and urged them to shift there.
Meanwhile, flood water entered the district’s Pir Sabaq area, yet again prompting the district administration to urge citizens to relocate.
Nowshera Additional Deputy Commissioner Quratul Ain Wazir said on Saturday evening that all the people had been evacuated from the low-lying areas of the district. “We are closely monitoring the flood situation and water level of the Kabul River,” she said.
The district administration, army and rescue teams were put on standby, the ADC said, adding that the danger was not over yet. The additional deputy commissioner added that protection walls along the Kabul River had collapsed in Pir Sabaq and as a result, water had entered houses and markets.
Sharing details about other areas, she said evacuations were underway since last night and so far, 700 families from the Pashtun Gari area had been shifted to a relief camp while another 300 had been evacuated from Pabbi.
“Our top priority is rescue operations to save lives,” she said, adding that the administration had also provided food packages and other relief items to those affected by floods.
A statement issued by Rescue 1122 said Mian Gujjar, Jala Bela, Takhtabad and other areas were affected by floods in the city. It added that a relief camp had been set up by Rescue 1122 at the Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority tweeted that damages to optical fibre cables and power outages have been reported in Chitral, Upper Dir, Donbala, Swat, Medan, Lal Qila Simarbaghdir, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, impacting connectivity services.
“PTA is monitoring the situation closely. Work is underway to fully restore services,” it added. The death toll from rain-induced floods was recorded at 42 in the province by Friday night.
Later in the day, KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan visited flood-hit areas of Swat and Lower Dir to assess the damage caused by the floods and overview the relief efforts underway.
Talking to media persons in Mingora, he announced Rs1 billion for flood victims across the province. “Another Rs5 billion will be approved soon too.”
He said that the government has commenced a helicopter service for Swat to assist with rescue operations. “We are trying to provide every possible assistance to every person affected.”