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US helps Pakistan flooding victims

US army helicopters have flown their first relief missions in Pakistan's flood-ravaged north west, airlifting hundreds of stranded people to safety from a devastated tourist town and distributing emergency aid.

In the country's south, authorities began evacuating half a million people as the worst monsoon rains in decades threatened new destruction.

The floods have already killed an estimated 1,500 people over the past week, mostly in the north west, the centre of Pakistan's fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

An estimated 4.2 million Pakistanis have been affected, including many in eastern Punjab province, which has seen numerous villages swallowed by rising water in recent days.

The flooding is one of several crises that has hit Pakistan since mid-July, including a suicide bombing in the north-west city of Peshawar, a plane crash that killed 152 people in the capital, and a spurt of politically motivated killings that have left dozens dead in the southern city of Karachi.

Foreign governments and aid agencies have stepped in to help the beleaguered government. It has been toughest in the north west, which has not seen such flooding since 1929, and where many bridges and roads have been damaged.

Four US Chinook helicopters landed in the resort town of Kalam in the Swat Valley, which has been cut off for more than a week, according to an Associated Press reporter there.

They flew hundreds of people to safer areas lower down, he said. The north west valley is a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold.

A US Embassy spokesman said 800 people were evacuated and relief goods distributed.

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