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Rescue teams race against Pakistan floods and pirate bandits

Despite warnings of Pakistan floods, many people are now marooned on rooftops or in trees by a surging tide infested with snakes. Bands of boat-borne bandits also threaten citizens.

By Hashim ShukoorMcClatchy Newspapers / August 11, 2010

Pakistani villagers wave to a Pakistani naval helicopter approaching a flooded area of Ghaus Pur near Sukkur, in Pakistan's Sindh Province, on Aug. 11. The United Nations, relying on Pakistani figures, says the number of people affected by flooding over the past two weeks is 13.8 million – more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, although the death toll in each of those disasters was much higher than the 1,500 people killed in these floods.

Shakil Adil/AP


Rohri, Pakistan

The small rubber boat manned by two Pakistani Navy personnel churned through the vast expanse of brown water, passing scattered clumps of treetops and the thatched roofs of a few houses in search of stranded villagers.

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The craft was part of an operation to rescue people around Sukkur, the city in Sindh Province where the wall of water unleashed by the worst flooding in Pakistan's history was cresting Tuesday as it moved south down the Indus River toward the Arabian Sea.

Those who didn't heed warnings to evacuate areas near the river, refusing to believe that their homes would be submerged, are now marooned on rooftops or in trees by a surging tide infested with snakes. They have little or no food, are forced to drink the filthy water, and are prey to bands of boat-borne bandits.

The water, which had risen slowly here for a week, gushed up over the weekend as the main body of the torrent swept in from the north, drowning farmlands and jungle as far the eye can see.

The flooding has killed some 1,600 people and affected 14 million others, according to the United Nations, overwhelming the government's ability to cope and submerging some of the most heavily populated areas and fertile agricultural lands. In Sindh alone, some 1.5 million people have been displaced so far, provincial authorities said Tuesday.

A McClatchy reporter rode aboard the boat as it left the riverbank at Rohri, a small town near Sukkur, where the river was 13 feet deep. The craft had been under way for about an hour before our guide, a local man, pointed to trees sticking out of the water. There he said, was his village, Allah Dhinoo.

As the boat approached, a man's yelling led the boat through a tangle of treetops to a thatched roof. Nearby, two young men waded through the neck-high flood. From just under the roof, inches above the water, a third was carried to the boat, a disabled man who had been suspended on a bed placed on the rafters.

The men refused to leave without a goat, which was loaded onto the boat, along with what appeared to be a fighting cock, two smaller birds in a cage, two trunks of possessions and a cache of shotguns. Left behind on the roof were several dogs that howled pleadingly as the craft departed.