Pakistan: Destructive winter weather continues

ISLAMABAD, 19 February (IRIN) - Maqbul Masih, aged 50, looks after his wife and three children by selling sweets in a small wooden shop in a slum area of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. He was forced to live in a tent in July 2001 after his mud house was washed away by severe flooding. But he now faces even more misery, as the heaviest winter rains in five years have left his makeshift home waterlogged.
"These rains have made our lives miserable. We cannot sleep inside our tents as they cannot withstand the heavy showers," he told IRIN. Masih is one hundreds of thousands across the country whose lives and properties have been devastated by the severe weather conditions.

Mumtaz Bibi, another resident of the shantytown, is worried about her one-room mud home, which may cave in if the rain persists. "We have nowhere else to go," she told IRIN.

Around 14 slum areas in the capital alone, mainly housing thousands of minority Christian families, are threatened by the current spell of rains.

While the winter rains and snow lashing Pakistan since the weekend might bring much needed relief to the drought-stricken country by filling dams and improving ground water, it has claimed at least 60 lives and injured hundreds more by causing road accidents, damage to houses and prompting landslides.

Torrential rains have pounded the south coast and northern Pakistan. Heavy snowfalls have blanketed northwestern and northeastern border areas. "As far as the area and intensity of winter rains is concerned, these are the heaviest in 30 years," Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, the director-general of Pakistan's meteorological office, told IRIN in Islamabad on Wednesday.

In one of the latest incidents, a tornado lashed Sheykhupura, a town near the eastern city of Lahore on Tuesday afternoon. State television reported that it killed two, injured another 150 and demolished some 400 houses in four villages.

Eleven people were killed and two sustained injuries when an overloaded pick-up plunged into a deep ravine at Tandole village in Battagram District, some 160 km northwest of Islamabad, on Monday, local media reported.

In the southern province of Sindh, the media reported one man killed and six injured when lightning struck a restaurant in Rohri district on Tuesday. Heavy rains and hailstorms in all parts of upper Sindh paralysed normal life in Sukkur, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Kandhkot, Khairpur, and Kashmore districts.

Three men and two women were killed and about 35 other people injured as a tornado struck Gadap town, some 30 km north of the southern city of Karachi, on Monday. In Hyderabad, 160 km (100 miles) northeast of Karachi, four people were killed and at least 40 injured when houses collapsed and several areas were inundated.

AFP reported on Tuesday that at least 14 people were killed and many injured as a minibus coming from the Afghan border town of Spin Buldak fell into a deep ravine from the Khojak mountain pass near the southwestern city of Quetta. Earlier, on Monday, about 200 houses were damaged in the village of Padgi Lashkar Khan, some 100 km southwest of Quetta in Chaghi District, after torrential rains caused flooding.

According to Chaudhry, the rains have reversed falling water levels in the vital Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs, which were heading for dangerous "dead levels" before the weekend. Dead levels are the minimum levels at which dams can operate to produce hydroelectric power and irrigate farmland.

"The damage were caused by micro-tornados, and they are isolated events," he said, adding that his office was not expecting any major floods in the country. The meteorological office has recorded more than 200 mm of rain in Islamabad. While most of the country has received more than 100 mm of rain since the weekend, mountain ranges in the southwestern, northwestern and northern areas of the country were also showered with snow.

Chaudhry predicted that the current weather system would clear soon, but more winter rains would probably follow until the end of the rainy season in early April.


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