Floods test defences in southern Pakistani city

Workers pile stones and sandbags to plug leaks in a levee protecting the southern Pakistani city of Shadad Kot, as the floods move slowly towards the sea.

People search for their belongings amid remains of a house destroyed by the floods as they return to their village in Kasba Gujrat, near Muzaffargarh, in Punjab province.
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SUKKUR, PAKISTAN // Workers piled stones and sandbags to plug leaks in a levee protecting a southern Pakistani city today, as the floods that have destroyed homes, farmland and livelihoods moved slowly toward the sea. A bus carrying people fleeing the water plunged into a flooded ravine in Punjab province, and at least 13 people died. Police official Jawed Amjad said the bus, traveling from Karachi to Peshawar, crashed into the ravine about 3am. He said 29 of the 59 passengers were rescued, 13 bodies were recovered and 17 people were missing. The missing may have been swept away in the rushing waters, he said.

The floods have left about six million people homeless from the mountainous north to the southern plains. The floods are expected to begin draining into the Arabian Sea in the coming days. Today, hundreds of people who had fled the floods blocked a highway near the town of Kot Adu in Punjab province to protest the slow pace of aid deliveries. "No food came here for the last two days ... We can wait - children can't," said Mohammad Iqbal, one of about 400 protesters.

Pakistan's shaky government has come under criticism for its response and will require billions of dollars in foreign aid to rebuild. The scale of the disaster has raised fears that Islamist extremist such as the Taliban may regroup in the misery. The latest town under threat from the Indus River is Shadad Kot in southern Sindh province. On the eastern side of the city, the levee was under pressure from 2.57-metre high waters, said Yaseen Shar, the top administrative official there.

"We are fighting this constant threat by filling the breaches with stones and sand bags but it is a very challenging task," he said. Most of the city's 350,000 people have moved to relief camps or to towns and cities away from the danger. Local charities, the Pakistani army and international agencies are providing food, water, medicine and shelter to the displaced, but millions have received little or help. Aid officials warn that water-borne diseases like cholera now pose a real threat.

Yesterday, the government said the world has given or pledged more than $800 million (Dh2.9 billion) of aid to the country. * AP