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Friday, May 21, 1999 Published at 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK

World: South Asia

Cyclone rescue efforts underway

Collecting belongings east of Karachi after Thursday's cyclone

The Pakistani army and navy have been called in to help rescue efforts after a cyclone struck the south-east of the country on Thursday.

Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad: Survivors are trying to move to higher ground
Some deaths have been reported and several fishermen are missing but officials say initial reports suggest the loss of life was not as great as originally feared.

However, material damage has been extensive, particularly to crops, homes and communications and some sparsely populated coastal areas have still not been reached.

The cyclone hit an impoverished area where most homes are built from slats of wood with thatched roofs.

Homes washed away

[ image: Villagers survey the devastation]
Villagers survey the devastation
At least 12 people are confirmed to have been killed when their homes collapsed on them and four fishermen are feared missing.

Entire villages of mud-built homes are also reported to have been washed away by huge waves.

Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad: The army has been called in
The Pakistan Navy has despatched emergency relief teams along with doctors and medical equipment to the worst affected areas.

Warnings were issued about the cyclone, but many people were still caught by surprise by the high winds, huge waves and lashing heavy rain.

Path of destruction

On Thursday, tropical cyclone 2A shifted course towards Pakistan after initially heading towards India's western state of Gujarat, prompting mass evacuations and port closures.

It hit Sindh Province at 10am (0500 GMT) near the fishing harbour of Keti Bander, 320km (200 miles) east of Karachi.

Winds of up to 270 kmh were reported by the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics in Karachi.

An official from Thatta district, which was hit by the cyclone, said: "We have reports of missing fishermen, but there is no confirmation yet as to how many may have disappeared."

Gujarat villages evacuated

Heavy rains and winds were reported along India's Kachh region as the cyclone passed coastal Gujarat.

The small fishing port of Dwarka and the neighbouring harbour of Kandla were lashed with rain and winds of up to 150 kmh. Reports say that around 50,000 people were evacuated from their homes and streets were deserted.

Arif Suleman was one of many local fishermen who had gathered to shelter in local schools requisitioned by authorities.

"The waves were 12 feet high and the sea water was pouring into our homes. Nearly everything we had was destroyed," he said.

In June last year, a storm left more than 1,000 people dead and caused damage estimated at over £200m.

Correspondents in Gujarat say that the authorities appeared to have been far better prepared this time, after having been widely criticised after last year's storm.

Weather officials say the cyclone now appears weakening - but the huge effort to rebuild homes and ensure adequate food and medical supplies is only just beginning.

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