Hungry victims of monsoon-spawned floods in southwestern Pakistan rioted Friday, protesting slow, meager aid reaching their marooned villages where many feared the receding waters would yield numerous bodies.
Police fired tear gas and shots into the air but failed to disperse a crowd of several thousand villagers who broke into and ransacked the mayor's office in this city in southwestern Pakistan ringed by floodwaters.
The widespread flooding struck after Cyclone Yemyin dumped torrential rains on the area Tuesday.
Protesters said they had waded through chest-deep water from outlying areas to voice their anger about the dearth of relief aid. Only packets of biscuits and bottles of water had been received, they said.
"Every family is looking for one or two members. They are all missing," said Chaker Baloth, who walked more than 25 miles through the night to reach this city of some 150,000. Others feared they would never see their missing family members again.
The government said the official death toll in Baluchistan province was 14, with more than 24 missing, although local media reported much higher numbers.
Communications still weak
Farqooq Ahmed Khan, head of the National Disaster Management Authority, said accurate figures were not available because of widespread communications disruptions in the stricken areas.
Khan told reporters in Islamabad that the military had rescued about 1,600 people, including 600 fishermen in the Arabian Sea.
Military helicopters continued to drop relief supplies, but many of the more than 800,000 people hit by monsoon flooding in southwest Pakistan appeared to have received little or nothing.
Twenty people died in flash floods Thursday in the northwestern Khyber Agency tribal region, said government official Ilyas Khan.
Floods that damaged several bridges in the region have forced the temporary suspension of the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees through the North West Frontier Province, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday.
More than 2 million Afghans still live in camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border, having fled decades of conflict in their country.
Afghan, Indian deaths
Floods also have ravaged four eastern provinces of neighboring Afghanistan, causing at least four deaths, a NATO statement said.
Monsoon storms have claimed more than 120 lives in neighboring India.
Khubah Bakhsh, the relief commissioner for Baluchistan, estimated that 200,000 houses had been destroyed or damaged.
In one of the hardest-hit areas — Turbat city and surrounding villages — the first relief supplies only began arriving Thursday, about 48 hours after the cyclone hit, driving the mayor to resign and angry residents to protest.
"We have been saved from the flood, but we may die of starvation," said Mohammed Kash, a teacher at a rural school.
From a helicopter, an Associated Press reporter saw only the tops of palm trees protruding from vast sheets of water in some areas.
People, cows and goats were stranded on rooftops without water or food, in sweltering 109-degree heat.