Pakistan seeks international help for flood victims

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif asked Friday for international help in battling deadly flood damage in the impoverished Islamic nation as rescuers struggled to evacuate thousands of marooned people from flood-hit areas.

Sharif's appeal on Twitter came as exceptionally heavy rain continue lashing Pakistan and the death toll reached 937 since mid-June, more than a third of them children. The crisis has forced the government to declare a state of emergency.

“The ongoing rain spell has caused devastation across the country," he tweeted, thanking other countries and groups for their support. “Together we will build back better.”

Later, he met with foreign diplomats and representatives of international aid agencies to brief them about the damages. A government statement quoted Sharif as saying 300 children were among the dead.

Sharif said the scope of the devastations caused by rains and floods this time was worse than in 2010, when floods killed 1,700 people. He blamed the “horrors of climate change" for the tragedy.

Pakistani TV footage on Friday showed a raging Swat River destroying the iconic New Honeymoon Hotel in the northwestern tourist resort of Kalam. There were no casualties as tourists and staff left the hotel on Wednesday, following government evacuation instructions.

Floods have damaged 170,000 homes, washed away roads and destroyed nearly 150 bridges, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. Although floodwaters receded in some areas, the situation worsened in Sindh province, where rescue workers were using boats to evacuate people. Thousands of flood-affected people were living in makeshift homes and tents.

Sharif visited flood-hit areas in Sindh province of Friday, assuring flood victims of the government's support. Some 6,500 Pakistani troops are taking part in the search and rescue operations and have so far evacuated more than 40,000 people.

The United Nations on Thursday said it has allocated $3 million for U.N. aid agencies and their partners in Pakistan to respond to the floods. “This will be used for health, nutrition, food security, and water and sanitation services in flood-affected areas, focusing on the most vulnerable," the U.N. said.

Monsoon rains in Pakistan typically begin in July. But this year, heavy downpours started in June, triggering floods. Scientists say climate change is a major factor behind the unusually severe weather, which has made life miserable for millions of people.

According to Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, the pressing challenge at the moment was saving lives and arranging tents and food for those left homeless by teh floods.

“This is a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, thousands are without shelter, many are without food and people are stranded," Rehman said.