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Pakistan Floods Swamp War-Ravaged Swat Valley

Last Updated 12:17 p.m. ET

The village of Imam Dheri in Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley suffered through years of Taliban rule and months of battles between Islamist militants and the army. But for a man who has seen it all, that's nothing compared to the last three days of flooding.

Pakistan's impoverished northwest has been wracked by the worst floods in the country's history - a disaster that has claimed 1,200 lives, wiped out whole villages, and left families clinging to the tops of collapsed houses in the hope of being rescued.

The disaster has forced around 2 million to flee their homes.

CBS News correspondent Richard Roth reports that rescue agencies and other organizations working on the ground say the death toll could already be 3,000 - three times higher than the official government tally.

They also fear the toll will grow because of the threat of deadly diseases, like cholera.

Gallery: Pakistanis Trapped by Deadly Floods

Angry residents are lashing out at the government's response to the disaster, saying Islamabad is responding late and with too little to meet a growing natural disaster.

The catastrophe also opened up a new front in the U.S. war against Islamist militants, with both groups competing to deliver emergency aid to a region under constant threat of the Taliban.

But for flood victims like Fazal Maula, a 30-year-old resident of Imam Dheri, it doesn't matter who delivers the assistance - he just wants to know how he and his family are going to find their next meal and rebuild their lives.

The floods destroyed almost everything in Imam Dheri and the surrounding villages, including houses, shops, vehicles and crops. Residents have received no assistance from the government, and those who haven't been able to flee by boat are running out of food, said Maula.

"We saw destruction during the three years of the Taliban and then during their fight with the army. But the destruction we have seen in the last three days is much more," Maula told an Associated Press reporter who managed to reach the village on a makeshift boat Sunday.

Pakistan dispatched medical teams Monday to the deluged northwest amid fears that cholera could
Spread.

Angry Survivors Ask, Where Is The Relief?

Some parents sought to save their children by carrying them on their shoulders as they waded through chest-high water fouled by the rotting carcasses of water buffalo.

Another flood victim, Hakimullah Khan, criticized the government for failing to help him find his wife and three missing children, who disappeared as water engulfed Charsada.

"The flood has devastated us all, and I don't know where my family has gone," said Khan. "Water is all around, and there is no help in sight."

Residents have railed against the government for failing to provide enough emergency assistance nearly a week after extremely heavy monsoon rains triggered raging floodwaters in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa
province.

Around 250 flood victims blocked a main road in the hard-hit district of Nowshera late Monday, complaining they had receiving little or no assistance, according to an Associated Press Television News cameraman at the scene.

The government says it has deployed thousands of rescue workers who have so far saved an estimated 28,000 people and distributed basic food items. The army has also sent some 30,000 troops and dozens of helicopters, but the scale of the disaster is so vast that many residents said it seems like officials are doing nothing. Thousands more people in the province remain trapped by the floodwaters.

The anger of the flood victims poses a danger to the already struggling government, now competing with Islamist movements to deliver aid in a region with strong Taliban influence.

"We need tents. Just look around," said flood victim Faisal Islam, sitting on the only dry ground he could find in Nowshera district - a highway median - surrounded by hundreds of people in makeshift shelters constructed from dirty sheets and plastic tarps.

Like many other residents of Pakistan's northwest, people camped out by the highway in Kamp Koroona village waded through the water to their damaged houses to salvage their remaining possessions: usually just a few mud-covered plates and chairs.

"This is the only shirt I have. Everything else is buried," said Islam.

The army has given them some cooking oil and sugar, but Islam complained that they needed much more.

Now people in the northwest also face the threat of waterborne disease - which could kill thousands more if health workers cannot deliver enough clean drinking water and treat and isolate any patients in crowded relief camps.

"To avert the looming threat of spread of waterborne diseases, especially cholera, we have dispatched dozens of mobile medical teams in the affected districts," said Sohail Altaf, the top medical official in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa.

Officials have yet to receive concrete reports of cholera cases, but fear of an outbreak is high, said Altaf. Patients with stomach problems from dirty water are being treated in government medical camps, he said.

The Pakistan Red Crescent and International Red Cross said they were distributing aid and evaluating further needs in areas isolated by washed-out bridges and roads.

The flooding crisis is especially dire because so many people lost literally all that they had, said Muhammad Ateeb Siddiqui, the Red Crescent's director of operations.

"We now need to urgently distribute not only food but also the means to cook it," he said. "The distribution of relief is severely constrained by damaged infrastructure, and the widespread contamination of water supplies has the potential to create major health problems."

The agencies said the flooding impact would shift south in the coming days as the waters moved downstream.

Aid From Abroad, In Cash And Chinooks

Pakistan's international partners have tried to bolster the government's response by offering millions of dollars in emergency aid.

The United Nations and the United States announced Saturday that they would provide $10 million dollars each in emergency assistance. The U.S. has also provided rescue boats, water filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals that Pakistani soldiers tossed from helicopters as flood victims scrambled to catch them.

The high-profile U.S. gesture of support comes at a time when the Obama administration is trying to dampen anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and enlist the country's support to turn around the Afghan war.

The U.S. provided similar emergency assistance after Pakistan experienced a catastrophic earthquake in 2005 that killed nearly 80,000 people. The aid briefly increased support for the U.S. in a country where anti-American sentiment is pervasive.

But feelings have since shifted, and only 17 percent of Pakistanis now have a favorable view of the U.S., according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Conducted in April 2010, the survey has a margin of error of three percentage points.

The U.S. could be hoping to get a similar popularity boost from the emergency flood assistance. But like the earthquake relief effort, the U.S. must compete with aid groups run by Islamist militants who also use assistance to increase their support.

Representatives from a charity allegedly linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group distributed food and offered medical services on Sunday to victims in the town of Charsada.

With suspected ties to al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people, and the U.S. military has said the group has stepped up activity in Afghanistan as well.

The army launched a major offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley last spring, sparking a fight that caused widespread destruction and drove some 2 million people from their homes.

The government has said that rehabilitating the area is key to keeping out the militants, a goal that was already hampered by a shortage of funds and now will be much harder to accomplish because of the devastating floods, which have destroyed more than 14,000 houses and 22 schools in Swat.

The U.S. stepped in to help the government Sunday, promising $10 million in emergency aid. The high-profile gesture comes at a time when the Obama administration is trying to dampen anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and enlist the country's support to turn around the Afghan war.

Pakistani and U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News' Farhan Bokhari that Pakistan's federal government was urgently seeking the deployment of U.S. Chinook helicopters to help with relief work in the northwest.

Chinooks - massive, heavy-lift helicopters - are in particularly high demand because the flooding has destroyed as many as 100 bridges in the region, making it impossible to move the massive amount of relief supplies needed into the affected areas, and the huge numbers of victims out.

The last time the U.S. was asked to deploy Chinooks in Pakistan was in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 2005 which left some 70,000 people dead. Bokhari says there are suggestions already that the damages to Pakistan's infrastructure due to the flooding could be comparable to the quake, even if the death toll isn't nearly as high.

(AP)
Roth reports that Chinooks are far more than useful emergency relief equipment - the twin-rotor copter is a powerful political symbol of U.S. good will. Days after the 2005 earthquake, eight of the American helicopters were moved from war-on-terror duty in Afghanistan to assist in earthquake relief.

(Left: A U.S. Army Chinook is seen during an operation in Afghanistan in 2006.).

The Chinooks ferried everything from drinking water to Iranian medical supplies and shelters. Roth reports that in December 2005, the Chinooks even carried Christmas presents to Pakistani survivors and refugees (most of whom are non-Christian). Roth, who covered the earthquake relief effort in Pakistan, recalls, the stars and stripes were discreetly covered on the choppers' fuselages -- but their origin was no secret.

There's no doubt they helped save lives. Whether they also won hearts and minds in Pakistan's hinterlands is probably still a matter of debate. There's no proof the U.S. ever attached a quid-pro-quo to the relief mission - which some in Washington advocated - seeking an opportunity to obtain free access for U.S. forces to extend anti-terror operations in Pakistan's volatile border regions.

The U.S. also has also provided rescue boats, water filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals that Pakistani soldiers tossed from helicopters as flood victims scrambled to catch them.

"This is much needed stuff in the flood-affected areas and we need more of it from the international community," said Latifur Rehman, a disaster management official in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, the northwest province ravaged by the floods.

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