1.3 Million Affected By Floods In Pakistan

Villagers flee after their homes were destroyed by flood in Pakistan's tribal area of Khyber near Afghanistan's border, Friday, June 29, 2007. Hungry victims of monsoon-spawned floods rioted Friday, protesting slow, meager aid reaching their marooned villages where many feared the receding waters would yield numerous corpses.
AP Photo/Mohammad Zubair
Pakistani troops and rescuers struggled Saturday to help 1.3 million victims of monsoon-triggered floods in the country's southwest, officials said, a day after villagers rioted over the slow response.

The death toll from the floods in worst-affected Baluchistan province rose to 17, an official said, with local media reporting that more than 200 people have died across the country after about four days of rains and flooding.

At least four people were injured Friday when police fired tear gas and bullets into the air to disperse villagers who ransacked the mayor's office in the flooded southwestern city of Turbat, driven by anger over a lack of relief aid.

It was the first such protest since Tuesday, when floods triggered by rains from Cyclone Yemyin began causing havoc in Baluchistan province, which includes the coastal town of Turbat, about 400 miles southeast of Quetta.

However, Khudah Bakhsh, the relief commissioner for Baluchistan, said Saturday that the situation was now under control in Turbat and that officials were trying their best to get food to victims.

"Pakistan's army is using transport planes and helicopters to ferry aid" to the flood-hit areas in Baluchistan, he said, adding the storm and floods had affected 1.3 million people in the province.

The comments by Bakhsh came after protesters said they had waded through chest-deep water from outlying areas to voice their anger about the shortage of relief aid. They said they received only packets of biscuits and bottles of water.

"Every family is looking for one or two members. They are all missing," said Chaker Baloth, who walked more than 25 miles through the night to reach Turbat, a town of 150,000.

Bakhsh said the official death toll in Baluchistan was 17, with an unspecified number of people missing.

But, Farqooq Ahmed Khan, head of the National Disaster Management Authority, said Friday accurate figures were unavailable due to poor communications in stricken areas.

Khan told reporters in Islamabad that the military had rescued about 1,600 people.

The floods also killed more than two dozen people in a northwestern tribal region, forcing the temporary suspension of the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday.

More than 2 million Afghans still live in camps along the border.

Floods also have ravaged four eastern provinces of neighboring Afghanistan, causing at least four deaths, a NATO statement said.

Monsoon storms have claimed more than 120 lives in neighboring India.

Bakhsh estimated that 500,000 houses were destroyed or damaged in Baluchistan, and many people needed more aid. "Despite bad weather, we are trying to ensure the supply of relief aid to the needy people," he said.