MULTAN, Pakistan - Pakistani authorities Thursday moved to protect two major cities from raging floodwaters, readying explosives to divert swollen rivers, in a crisis which has hit nearly two million people.
The floods and landslides from days of heavy monsoon rains have now claimed more than 450 lives in Pakistan and India, with hospitals struggling to cope with the disaster.
In Pakistan, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said late Thursday more than 1.8 million were now affected by the raging torrents - a figure that includes both those stranded at home and those who fled after the floods hit.
In neighbouring India, between 300,000 and 400,000 people remain stranded in Indian-administered Kashmir where phone lines have been down for days and food and water supplies are running low, although the floods have begun to recede.
The floodwaters are moving downstream through Pakistan's Punjab province, inundating huge swathes of farmland in the country's breadbasket and most prosperous area.
The army on Thursday planted explosives in preparation for breaching three strategic dykes to divert waters away from the southern Punjab cities of Muzaffargarh and Multan, a major agricultural centre of two million people and the main hub for Pakistan's important cotton industry.
A senior Multan government official told AFP the dykes were likely to be blown in the evening, but the blast may be put off if the waters abate.
Similar drastic measures were taken on Wednesday to protect the city of Jhang, further upstream, where 10,000 people were evacuated overnight, according to senior rescue official Rizwan Naseer.
Hafiz Shaukat Ali, a senior administration official in Multan, said all schools in the area would be closed for the next two days.