Pak army and workers were on a “war footing” on Sunday as they battled to save Thatta after most of the population of 300,000 fled the advancing flood waters.
Torrential monsoon rains have triggered massive floods that have moved steadily from north to south over the past month, engulfing a fifth of the volatile country and affecting 17 million of its 167 million people.
Southern Sindh is the worst-affected province, with 19 of its 23 districts ravaged as flood waters swell the raging Indus river to 40 times its usual volume.
A million people have been displaced over the past few days and hundreds of thousands have already fled Thatta alone ahead of the approaching torrents as soldiers work frantically to repair breached levees on the river.
“The water is still two kilometres (about a mile) away from Thatta where the armed forces and the local administrative workers are working on war footing to save the city,” senior city official Hadi Bakhsh Kalhoro said on Sunday.
“The army brought a maximum of resources to try to fill up the breach. Almost all the people have left Thatta to safer places, all shops and schools are closed,” he said.
Water levels were still rising in the district, but “We are hopeful that we can save at least Thatta city in two days,” he said.
The government has been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster, the worst in the country’s history, with millions in need of tents and food.
Aid agencies are worried about the growing danger of malnutrition and water-borne disease, with children especially vulnerable.
Oxfam warned Sunday that reconstruction efforts must begin immediately to prevent the disaster from becoming a long-term catastrophe.
The British-based international charity said billions of dollars would be needed to start rebuilding schools, roads, bridges and hospitals immediately, adding that the aid effort was struggling to respond.
“One month into a crisis we would expected the situation to have stabilised and the long-term planning to have begun,” Neva Khan, Oxfam’s country director in Pakistan, said in a statement.
“But we are still in phase one of an increasing catastrophe, evacuating people, providing them with shelter, trying to get clean water and sanitation to those people who need it.
At the massive Kotri barrage embankment which protects the southern city of Hyderabad, engineer Qadir Palijo said Sunday that water levels were falling.
“The water is slowly receding in Kotri but still increasing down in the south (towards Thatta). The process of recession of the water is slow but we hope the pace will increase in a couple of days,” he said.