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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.

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"That's to deal with the bandits," explained 30-year-old Nadir Ali Bhurro, pointing to the shotguns as he climbed aboard, clad in only a loincloth, having first taken care to lock his submerged house. "We have to bring our valuables because the bandits have big boats and they'll take our stuff when we're gone."

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The Sindh countryside is notorious for bandits and the area by the river was always a favorite hideout. The outlaws apparently have been taking advantage of the floods by ransacking abandoned homes.

At the next stop, four men and a woman were huddled on a flimsy roof. They'd stacked their belongings in locked trunks atop a brick structure nearby, along with a tall metal cylinder for storing grain.

"We've just been eating rice for the last few days," said Atta Mohammad, 20. "And drinking the river water."

At a third stop, just a few hundred yards away, chickens that had been surviving on a thatched roof were tied up, bundled into a steel trunk, and brought aboard the boat, along with the man who had been minding them.

"The chickens are very valuable," explained Bhurro, who gave only one name. "What else are we going to live on once we're out of the village?"

The boat's crew was indulgent, allowing the animals and other belongings on board. The victims of this flood are dirt poor. Most have lost their annual store of grain.

"People don't leave their birds behind," said Guftar Ahmed, who was steering the craft. "We have to try to accommodate their needs."

As the boat turned to return to Rohri, small heads became visible bobbing along in mid-stream. Those too desperate to wait for rescue were swimming for dry land, a distance of several miles.

When we approached, it was obvious that the swimmers, several young men, were exhausted. With no room left on the boat, two clung to the sides and were pulled along through the flood.

Their shriveled hands, barely able to hang on, testified to the hours they'd spent in the water. They had lashed empty plastic jugs around themselves for buoyancy, and had wrapped their clothes around their heads.

Once on land, Ashiq Ali, 20, said that the pair had taken to the water when they finally abandoned a hope of saving their buffaloes.

"We got very tired [swimming]," said Ali, from Alaf Kacha village, about eight miles away. "Back there, we have 30 buffaloes. Each is worth 30,000 rupees ($350). How could we just leave them behind?"

The rescue mission had taken three hours. The boat turned around to retrieve other swimmers. Many such missions take five or six hours, said Major Noor Ulamin, who was supervising rescue missions from the riverbank.

"These people don't understand the gravity of the situation, how far the water will rise," Ulamin said. "It is still rising."