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Pakistan aid helicopters stay grounded as monsoon rain brings more destruction

Stormy weather grounded helicopters carrying emergency supplies to Pakistan's flood-ravaged northwest yesterday as the worst monsoon rains in decades brought more destruction to a nation already reeling from violence.

US military waiting to fly Chinooks to stranded communities in the upper reaches of Swat Valley were frustrated by the storms, which dumped more rain on a region where many thousands are living in tents or public buildings.

Over the last week, floods triggered by monsoon rains have spread from the northwest down Pakistan, killing around 1,500 people. The floods were moving south along the River Indus, causing less damage and death but inundating hundreds of villages.

Some 30,000 Pakistani soldiers are rebuilding bridges, delivering food and setting up relief camps in the northwest, the main battleground in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Foreign countries and the UN have donated millions of dollars.

The UN said 4 million people had been affected, 1.5 million severely, meaning their homes had been damaged or destroyed. Earlier, Nadim Ahmed, the head of the National Disaster Management Authority, said 12 million people had so far been affected by the floods and 650,000 houses destroyed. He did not elaborate.

In a TV address to the nation, Prime Minister Raza Yousuf Gilani called it the worst flooding in Pakistan's 63-year history.

Also helping out in the relief effort are Islamist charities, including Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, which Western officials believe is linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Foundation head Hafiz Abdur Rauf said the assistance of the US Army was welcome.

“This is a difficult situation for us. Every helping hand and donation is welcome,” he said, adding that his group is running 12 medical facilities and providing cooked food for 100,000 people everyday. The foundation helped out after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake under a different name.

The government has come under criticism for not doing enough, especially since President Asif Ali Zardari chose to go ahead with a trip to the UK at the height of the crisis.

In the Sukkur area of Sindh in southern Pakistan, 70 villages had been flooded over the last 24 hours, the navy said.

“Floods killed our people, they have ruined our homes and even washed away the graves of our loved ones. Yet we are here without help from the government,” said Mai Sahat, a 35-year-old women looking over a flooded landscape where her village used to be.

About 85 US military personnel are taking part in the relief activities along with six helicopters flown over from Afghanistan, where some 100,000 US troops are based battling the Taliban.

The United States is unpopular in Pakistan, and Washington is hoping the relief missions will help improve its image.

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