Heavy rains hit large areas of Pakistan as the government declared an emergency to deal with the monsoon floods, it said it affected more than 30 million people.
The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the Indian subcontinent, but each year it also brings a wave of destruction.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on Friday that more than 900 people had been killed this year – including 34 in the past 24 hours – as a result of monsoon rains that started in June.
Officials say this year’s floods are comparable to those of 2010 – the worst on record – when more than 2,000 people died and almost a fifth of the country was under water.
“I have never seen such a major flood from the rains in my life,” octogenarian farmer Rahim Bakhsh Brohi told Agence France-Presse near Sukkur in the southern province of Sindh.
Like thousands of others in rural Pakistan, Brohi was seeking shelter beside a national highway, as elevated roads are among the few dry places to be found.
A statement released Friday by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office said 33 million people had been “severely affected” by the floods, while the country’s disaster management agency said nearly 220,000 homes had been destroyed and half a million others badly damaged.
Sindh’s provincial disaster management agency said 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of crops had been wiped out there, where many farmers live hand-to-mouth and season-to-season.
“My cotton crop which was sown on 50 acres of land has disappeared,” Nasrullah Mehar told AFP. “It’s a huge loss for me… What can we do?”
Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, who on Wednesday called the floods “a disaster of epic proportions”, said the government had declared an emergency and appealed for international help.
Pakistan is eighth on the Long Term Global Climate Risk Indexa list compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch of countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.
Earlier this year, much of Pakistan was in the grip of drought and a heat wave, with temperatures reaching 51°C (124°F) in Jacobabad, Sindh province.
The city is struggling with floods that have inundated homes and washed away roads and bridges.
In Sukkur, about 50 miles (75 km) away, residents struggled to navigate muddy streets clogged with flood-borne debris.
“If you had come earlier, the water would be this high,” Aqeel Ahmed, a 24-year-old student, told AFP, raising his hand to his chest.
Sharif canceled a planned trip to the UK to oversee the flood response and ordered the army to devote all its resources to relief operations.
“I saw from the air and the devastation cannot be expressed in words,” he told state television after visiting Sukkur.
“Cities, villages and crops are flooded with water. I don’t think this level of destruction has happened before.
A nationwide fundraising appeal has been launched, with the Pakistani military saying that each commissioned officer will pay them one month’s salary.
Almost all of Pakistan has suffered this year, but the worst hit areas are Balochistan and Sind in the south and west.
The two provinces experienced the most disastrous monsoon episode in six decades, registering respectively 522% and 469% more than average downpour this year.
Heavy rains washed away people, roads, bridges and livestock. Baluchistan’s rail link was also suspended with other parts of Pakistan after a major bridge built by the British government in 1885 collapsed in March, some 56 km from the provincial capital, Quetta.
Quetta witnessed heavy rain for more than 24 hours which ended at 2 p.m. local time on Friday. The provincial capital saw the the worst flooding in the last 24 hours and water flowing towards dwellings, causing casualties and heavy damage to masses and property.
Relief and rescue operations continue. Deputy Commissioner Shaihak Baloch, head of the rescue and rescue operation, told the Guardian from the site: “We are carrying out rescue and rescue operations. We have not yet assessed the victims and the damage.
“Because Quetta City has a valley, flood waters came from nearby mountains and unprecedented rains in the city caused caused urban flooding. We work hard to save people.
“We are witnessing the worst flooding in Balochistan and many parts of the province have become inaccessible due to the destruction of roads and bridges.
Images were circulating on social media on Friday of swollen rivers obliterating buildings and bridges along their banks in the mountainous north.
Junaid Khan, deputy commissioner of Swat district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP that 14 riverside hotels had been swept away, along with two small hydroelectric power stations.
In Chaman, a western border town neighboring Afghanistan, travelers had to wade through waist-deep water to cross the border after a nearby dam burst, adding to the rain-induced deluge.
Pakistan Railways said Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, was cut off and train services were suspended after a key bridge was damaged by a flash flood.
Most mobile networks and internet services were down in the province, with the country’s telecommunications authority calling it “unprecedented”.