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Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan leaves families stranded without aid

Flood victims in Pakistan carried belongings they could salvage from their submerged houses as they wade through a flooded area in Dera Allah Yar on Aug. 28. (Video: AP)
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Floodwaters ripping through Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 people since mid-June, affected millions of others and left entire villages inaccessible to relief workers.

Pakistani officials are calling the scale of the crisis “unprecedented” as they scramble to provide supplies, medical assistance and temporary shelter to those who have lost their homes.

The provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan in the south of the country have suffered the most destruction. Some families tell The Washington Post they haven’t received any government assistance, forcing thousands to flee on foot in search of food and dry land.

“I have never in my life seen such rains and the floodwaters,” said Bashir Ahmed Mallah, a 62-year-old farmer in Sindh. When the waters began to rise in his village last week, he and his family crowded inside their home. “We thought these were our last hours before death,” he said.

The floods are the worst to hit Pakistan in over a decade. Initial government figures suggest they could be more devastating than the 2010 floods that killed hundreds and left millions homeless. Already battling a spiraling economic crisis and a power struggle with the country’s former leader, Imran Khan, the Pakistani government is appealing for outside help.

Officials say that they are struggling with limited supplies, and that relief teams are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster.

Photos and videos: Flooding leaves more than 1,000 people dead in Pakistan

“The devastation caused by the floods is unprecedented,” Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon told The Post. In Sindh province, some 1,800 camps have been set up for those who lost their homes, and Memon said thousands more remain stranded.

“The government is doing its best,” he said, but called on “rich people and welfare organizations” to join the relief effort. “The destruction and losses are so huge, it’s something we have never seen before.”

Mallah, the farmer in Sindh, said his house is badly damaged, but more than a dozen homes in his area — most built from mud brick — have collapsed completely, and entire fields of crops are in ruins.

“There is nothing left, just dirt,” he said.

A government health center was set up in his village for a day last week, Mallah said, but it has since been dismantled, even though hundreds of people are without food and shelter. “We need immediate government assistance,” he pleaded.

The head of a local humanitarian group in Baluchistan said damage to infrastructure has left some districts completely cut off.

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Naseer Chan, who runs the National Humanitarian Network in the province, said his organization has prepared relief goods and food packages, but can’t access the worst-hit areas because roads and bridges have been washed away or are underwater.

Government relief efforts in Baluchistan are heavily reliant on helicopters to reach those in need, according to Faisal Panizai, a spokesman for the province’s disaster management authority.

More than 61,000 houses in the province have been partially or completely damaged by the floods, according to the latest government assessment, Panizai said.

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Exceptional rainfall began falling across Pakistan in June following months of historic heat waves and little precipitation. Rainfall rates picked up even more the next month, as the country received 180 percent more rain than the average, making it the wettest July on record since 1961, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Rainfall amounts were 450 percent above average in Baluchistan and 307 percent above average in Sindh, a record for both provinces. Punjab province, in the north, experienced its second wettest month and received 116 percent more than normal.

“The season has not ended yet and the total number of rainy days have already almost doubled for several cities,” said Bushra Khalid, a research scientist at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research in Beijing, in an email.

Ali Raza’s neighborhood in Sindh is completely surrounded by floodwaters. To access food, medicine and clean water, he has to walk through three feet of water to the nearest dry land.

When the floodwaters hit last week, the noise was “deafening,” he said. All he remembers is the sound of his children screaming. Part of his house collapsed during the onslaught.

“We thought only God could save us now,” he remembered. His family survived without any physical injuries, but one of his sons is severely traumatized. He hasn’t spoken since and refuses to eat.

“The entire city was underwater for days and many areas are still flooded,” Raza said.

The 47-year-old day laborer works in the fields to support his family, but can’t make an income with most of the surrounding farmland underwater. He’s heard hundreds are seriously injured in his district and some have died, but with phone lines largely down and families scattered, it is impossible to know the true toll.

“Everybody is in shock,” he said.

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Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and George from Kabul. Kasha Patel in Washington contributed to this report.