Navy called in as devastating floods return to batter Pakistan and India

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's navy sailed to the rescue of people stranded by devastating floods yesterday, while in India rescuers dug through destroyed homes and piles of mud after huge landslides in the remote north of the country killed about 130 people and left more than 500 missing.

Using rubber and wooden vessels, the troops patrolled parts of Sindh province where people struggled chest-deep through water with their possessions on their heads and their chickens. "We have been doing this for several days," naval officer Akhter Mahmood told Reuters after his boat had travelled through more than a dozen miles of floodwater.

The floods that have left an estimated 1,600 people dead and affected more than 13 million people, have wrecked 1.4 million acres of agricultural land in India's breadbasket, Punjab, and elsewhere. As a result, food prices have leapt up, causing added hardship. The price of staples such as tomatoes, onions and potatoes have in some cases increased fourfold in recent days, putting them out of reach for many Pakistanis.

This, coupled with anger about the seemingly inadequate response of the authorities to the worst floods in more than 80 years, will add to the pressure on the government as it struggles to respond to the disaster. President Asif Ali Zardari has been criticised for going ahead with a trip to Britain and other countries while the crisis raged.

In the northern part of Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials revealed that five foreign tourists were among the dozens of people killed by landslides, triggered last Friday by flash floods. It is thought that 2,000 tourists were in Ladakh when the storm struck. Many tourists have been helping in the rescue and clean-up operation.

Five hundred Indians are still missing, including 28 soldiers. "There may be more people missing because of the vastness of the area," one local official told reporters.

Police, troops and paramilitaries are clearing roads to try and enable rescuers to reach remote and isolated communities. In some places, the mud is said to be 15ft deep and there is a shortage of bulldozers and other heavy machinery. The injured are being treated at an army hospital and several makeshift clinics in and around Leh, the worst-hit town.

August is the peak tourist season in Ladakh, 280 miles east of Srinagar. Its moonscape-like terrain set in a high-altitude desert is popular with trekkers and adventurers. Normally, it gets very little rain and local farmers rely on glacial melt-waters to irrigate their crops.