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UN to launch appeal as Pakistan flood disaster deepens

Hopes fade for China mudslide survivors
Zhouqu, China (AFP) Aug 10, 2010 - Rescuers in northwest China on Tuesday battled on with the grim task of searching for over 1,100 people missing in huge mudslides that have killed 337, but hopes faded that many would be saved. At least three villages were levelled by an avalanche of mud and rocks triggered by heavy rains Saturday in a remote area of Gansu province -- the latest deadly disaster as China battles its worst flooding in a decade. With more rain forecast for later in the week, Premier Wen Jiabao -- who comforted survivors of the devastation in hardest-hit Zhouqu on Monday -- urged rescuers to hurry but acknowledged the task would be an arduous one. "We must fully realise the difficulties for the search and rescue work," Wen was quoted as saying by the state Xinhua news agency. "You must race against the clock and spare no efforts in saving lives."

President Hu Jintao presided over a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders Tuesday on how to handle the crisis, Xinhua said. Thousands of soldiers and rescuers armed mainly with shovels, hoes and rope hunted for survivors in Zhouqu, the county seat, where homes were torn apart and streets still buried in mud as deep as two metres (six feet) in places. "My older brother is buried here. He was on the ground floor," Chen Xue, 45, told AFP, pointing at a house submerged in mud. Only the third floor poked through the sludge. Chen said he had travelled a full day from neighbouring Sichuan province to try to find his sibling, who was doing construction work in Zhouqu. "I will wait here until they bring him out," he said, acknowledging that his brother had likely died in the disaster, as rescue workers used shovels and picks to go through the mess, some with the help of sniffer dogs.

The landslides swept mud, houses, cars and other debris into the Bailong river running through Zhouqu, blocking the waterway and triggering flooding in the mountainous area, the government said. The Bailong remained flooded on Tuesday, with only the tops of street lamps visible above the water line, an AFP correspondent saw. The mudslides levelled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 500 metres wide, Xinhua said. Floodwaters up to three storeys high have submerged half the county, where one third of the population is Tibetan. Roads and bridges have also been destroyed. Aerial photos published by state media showed Zhouqu essentially split in two by a massive river of mud. In the centre of town, the pungent odour of death permeated the air. Residents wandered about, searching for their relatives. Tibetan women cried and chanted in mourning for the victims.

The death toll jumped to 337 Monday, Xinhua said, quoting Chen Jianhua, communist party chief of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous prefecture. Another 1,148 others were missing. Chen said 218 injured survivors had been taken to local hospitals. More than 40 people with serious injuries were transferred to the provincial capital Lanzhou for treatment. He told a press briefing that families of dead will be given a payment of 8,000 yuan (1,200 dollars) for each family member lost in the disaster. In Zhouqu, residents queued for food and bottled water, an AFP correspondent saw. Tens of thousands were reportedly in need, and aid agencies were rushing supplies to the disaster zone. Authorities have sent more than 4,500 soldiers, police, firefighters and medics to help in search and rescue efforts. Signs of life were heard on Monday, Xinhua quoted rescuers as saying. More rain was forecast for the area from Wednesday. The government had said more than 2,100 people were dead or missing nationwide in flood-related disasters before the Gansu mudslides. More than 12 million others have been evacuated from their homes.
by Staff Writers
Sukkur, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 10, 2010
The United Nations is launching an appeal to help the millions of people hit by Pakistan's worst ever floods which have cut off swathes of the country and raised fears of a food crisis.

A UN official said the disaster has affected almost 14 million people, eclipsing the scale of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as the deadly floodwaters sweep south and rescuers battle to bring aid to survivors.

"We will soon issue an... appeal for several hundred million dollars to respond to immediate needs," UN chief Ban Ki-moon told a press conference on Monday.

"I appeal for donors to generously support Pakistan at this difficult time."

The Pakistani government and UN officials have appealed for more urgent relief efforts to cope with the catastrophe.

The entire northwestern Swat valley, where Pakistan fought a major campaign to flush out Taliban insurgents last year, was cut off at the weekend as were parts of the country's breadbasket in Punjab and Sindh provinces.

"This disaster is worse than the tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake," Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told AFP.

He said the 13.8 million affected outstripped the more than three million hit by the 2005 earthquake, five million in the 2004 tsunami and the three million affected by the Haiti earthquake in January this year.

The United Nations estimates 1,600 people have died in Pakistan's floods and the Pakistani government has confirmed 1,243 deaths. About 220,000 were killed in the December 2004 tsunami in Asia.

"This is the worst ever flood of our history. The nation needs to come together at this crucial time," said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after visiting flood-hit areas of Punjab province on Monday.

"Rehabilitation of the affected people is a challenge. We are facing a bigger challenge than 2005 earthquake. It is a catastrophe."

Pakistan's meteorological office on Monday forecast scattered rain in the next 24 hours and said the intensity of monsoon showers was lessening.

But with floods sweeping south, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to seek safety as heavy rains lashed Sindh and water levels rose further in the swollen Indus river.

"We have evacuated about one million people but hundreds of thousands of people left their houses alone," Jam Saifullah Dharejo, irrigation minister for Sindh, told AFP.

Ban also stressed the need to consider medium- and long-term assistance to Pakistan, warning that this "will be a major and protracted task."

Food prices are skyrocketing, compounding the misery as the floods ravage the country's most fertile lands and wipe out crops.

"Roads are closed. Fields are under water and it has affected the markets badly," Amir Zada, 35, a fruit and vegetable seller in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The government said foreign donors including the United States have pledged almost 93 million dollars in aid, but on the ground Islamic charities with suspected extremist links have been far more visible in the relief effort.

US military helicopters supporting relief and rescue operations have rescued more than 1,000 people, the White House said Monday.

In a northern area of Sindh, hundreds of farm workers were stranded on a bridge in the highway town of Karampur, camped out with utensils and bedding while the road beyond lay flooded and the main Indus highway blocked.

"We fled to save our lives. We thought we would get relief goods but we got nothing," said Dodo Khan, 50, an agriculture worker.

"We haven't eaten for three days. My younger son, who is just five years old, is crying with hunger."

Gnawing on a piece of onion, the child winced at the bitter taste, crying and visibly unable to swallow.

Survivors have lashed out at authorities for failing to come to their rescue, piling pressure on Pakistan's cash-strapped administration straining to contain Taliban violence and an economic crisis.

"We voted for this government. We made (President) Asif Ali Zardari our ruler but we don't know why he is so unconcerned," cried Mahi Bacchi, 45.

"We are here without food and water. Our children are sick but no one comes from the government to help us."

Zardari has been in France and Britain, courting massive criticism for not returning at a time of national disaster. One protester threw a shoe at him in England.

The United Nations estimated that up to 500,000 people are homeless and 1.4 million acres of agricultural land destroyed in Punjab, but said damage was worst in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

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China gold mine fire kills 16 workers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 7, 2010
Sixteen workers died when a fire broke out in a gold mine in east China, state media reported Saturday, in the latest accident to hit the nation's notoriously dangerous mining sector this week. Most of the victims died of toxic smoke inhalation underground or in hospital after the accident, which happened on Friday in Shandong province's Zhaoyuan city, the official Xinhua news agency said. ... read more

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