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Pakistan effort aims to aid 20,000

Floods, avalanches kill at least 260

QUETTA, Pakistan -- This nation launched a huge relief operation for an estimated 20,000 people affected by torrential rains in the southwest, as floods and avalanches pushed the death toll to 260 nationwide, officials said yesterday.

Authorities rushed in thousands of troops to help rescue efforts in the remote province of Baluchistan. Local government spokesman Razak Bugti said 500 people were missing after a dam burst following the country's worst deluge in 16 years.

Villages near the coastal town of Pasni bore the brunt of the destruction when waters breached the Shadikor Dam, sweeping away people and houses.

Provincial minister Sher Jan Baluch said the death toll from the disaster had risen to 71.

Pasni lies about 500 miles south of the provincial capital, Quetta. More than 40 people have been killed in other parts of the province affected by rain.

President Pervez Musharraf said he was going to visit the area to take charge.

"I will oversee relief operations. A C-130 plane is standing before me," Musharraf said.

Officials said at least five villages, home to about 7,000 people, had been submerged by waters pouring from the ruptured dam, an embankment 115 feet high and 985 feet long constructed two years ago.

Four thousand people living near the Akra Caur Dam supplying water to the nearby port of Gawadar had also been evacuated as water levels passed danger limits, officials said.

"People have taken shelter on nearby high ground, and helicopters are lifting them from there," said Bashir Baluch, a resident of Gawadar, describing the situation in Suntsar, a small town between Pasni and Gawadar.

Parts of Pasni were under 3 feet of water, and tents had been put up on higher ground for the displaced families.

"The people who have taken shelter on their rooftops have been picked up and provided shelter in the government buildings," said an official at Baluchistan's Crisis Control Cell.

Officials say 6,000 army, paramilitary, and navy troops have been mobilized.

Military transport planes and trucks were ferrying in food, blankets, tents, and other emergency supplies, while helicopters flew over flooded areas as several bridges along the main coastal highway had been washed away.

Avalanches, flash floods, and roof collapses wrought havoc in the north and northwest, where reports say about 150 people have died.

In the worst single incident, some 33 Kashmiri villagers perished in an avalanche that struck Mathawali Siri hamlet in the Neelam Valley, said Faisal Saleh Hayat, minister for Kashmir affairs and northern areas.

Five more people were killed in an avalanche in another Kashmiri valley, and authorities in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir, evacuated homes on the city's outskirts as a precaution against landslides as the downpour continued.

In North West Frontier Province, newspapers reported 97 people had died in the rain and snow over the past week.

An army helicopter yesterday picked up 16 troopers caught in an avalanche in the province's Teerah Valley three days ago, and rescuers are trying to reach five more stranded soldiers, but 23 are still unaccounted for.

In the province's Swat Valley, six people were killed by falling ice and rock from a glacier in Mankial Balakot.

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