Race against time as waters head south

WORKERS piled stones and sandbags to plug leaks in a levee protecting southern Pakistani cities yesterday as the floods that have destroyed homes, farmland and livelihoods moved slowly towards the sea.

Authorities are increasingly worried that even the ten miles of new levees that soldiers have built to protect Shadad Kot, and Qambar city further to the south, may not protect them from the massive floods.

"It is the last-ditch effort to save the city," said Brigadier Khawar Baig. "We are trying to block the water here. If it crosses over, we fear it will go further south and inundate more towns."

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He said water levels were still rising, and 90 per cent of Shadad Kot's 350,000 residents have already fled the city. Many have also left Qambar and other nearby towns.

On the eastern side of the city, levees were under pressure from 9ft-high flood waters, said a local official. "We are fighting this constant threat by filling the breaches with stones and sand bags but it is a very challenging task," he said.

Meanwhile, a bus carrying people fleeing the water plunged into a flooded ravine in Punjab province, killing at least 13 people. The bus, travelling from Karachi to Peshawar, crashed into the ravine at about 3am. Twenty-nine of the 59 passengers were rescued, 13 bodies were recovered and 17 people were missing.

The floods have left about six million people homeless, from the mountainous north to the southern plains, and are expected to begin draining into the Arabian Sea in the coming days.

Yesterday, hundreds of people who fled the floods blocked a highway in Punjab province to protest at the slow pace of aid deliveries. "No food came here for the last two days. We can wait - children can't," Mohammad Iqbal, one of the protesters, said.

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