ISLAMABAD – Military specialists blew up dikes in central Pakistan to divert swollen rivers and save cities from raging floods that have killed hundreds of people, authorities said Saturday, as officials stepped up efforts in India's part of Kashmir to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases there.
In Pakistan, the breaches at the overflowing Chenab River were performed overnight as floodwaters reached Multan, a city famous for its Sufi saints. Pakistani news channels showed pictures of floodwaters gushing through the blown-up dikes.
Civil and military officials have been using helicopters and boats to evacuate marooned people since Sept. 3, when floods triggered by monsoon rains hit Pakistan and Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and neighboring India.
Pakistan's military said in a statement Saturday that it was still evacuating people and air-dropping food in the districts of Multan, Muzaffargarh and Jhang. It said troops had air-dropped tons of food in flood-affected areas, while the army's medical teams were also treating patients.
Ahmad Kamal, the spokesman for Pakistan's National Disaster Management authority, said rains and floods had killed 280 people and injured more than 500 in Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. He said more than 2 million people had been affected.
Kamal said rescuers had evacuated 276,681 persons from flood-hit areas and aerial monitoring was being done through helicopters.
On Saturday, state-run Pakistan television showed pictures of men and women wading through waist-deep waters. It also showed army helicopters plucking people from rooftops and trees in inundated villages. Pictures taken from helicopters showed submerged villages and towns in the districts of Jhang and Multan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is himself supervising rescue operations, traveled to Jhang on Saturday.
In a televised speech there, Sharif said his government was exempting flood-affected people from paying their electricity bills.
"I assure you that we will rebuild your homes. We will do whatever is possible to help you," he told a gathering of survivors near a flooded village.
About 200 people have died in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where floodwaters have receded, enabling people to return to their homes.
Medical teams in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-held Kashmir, were stepping up efforts to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, officials said Saturday.
Elsewhere in Indian-controlled Kashmir, army troops evacuated nearly 150,000 people whose homes were flooded. Troops and army engineers were working to restore the vital Jammu-Srinagar highway, which links Indian Kashmir to the rest of the country. The highway remained closed for the 10th straight day Saturday due to landslides and fallen rocks.