After The Floods, Misery And Motivation In Pakistan As Pakistan struggles to overcome record floods, NPR's Julie McCarthy has been documenting the hardships of the people -- 8 million homeless -- and devastation to the land. She shares some of her impressions and experiences covering the disaster, which took her from the top of the country to the bottom and back up again.
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After The Floods, Misery And Motivation In Pakistan

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After The Floods, Misery And Motivation In Pakistan

After The Floods, Misery And Motivation In Pakistan

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In Pakistan, the death toll from a suicide attack on a Shiite Muslim procession jumped to 65 yesterday, as the critically wounded from the Quetta bombing died. The incessant violence only deepens the turmoil in Pakistan as it struggles to recover from last month's record floods.

NPR's Julie McCarthy has been documenting the hardships of the people - eight million homeless - and the devastation to the land. She traveled up and down the country to cover the disaster. She's on the line from Islamabad to describe her experiences. And first, Julie, water, water everywhere - inundating an area half the size of Italy. What was it like for you to get around in all that flooding?

JULIE MCCARTHY: Well, you can imagine. You know, you're taking boats and planes and hovercrafts and inner tubes rafts, cars, trucks, helicopters. We spent the day Saturday, yesterday, ferrying around in a U.S. Marine helicopter with the American military that's working around the clock to reach these populations in upper Swat Valley that are cut off.

Three-and-a-half weeks ago we joined a caravan of these heavy trucks that would plow through the water five feet deep and more, trying to get supplies to stranded flood victims or to reach their homes with livestock and grandma squeezed into these tall trucks. Plenty of them wound up overturned with people inside and swept away.

I got goose bumps listening to one of the chief administrators in the southern province in Sindh describe the all-night vigils at the sucker barrage. Liane, he said the water sounded like a thousand serpents hissing. And his residence was below the water line by 67 feet, and he was told to evacuate and he refused.

And here's how he described those harrowing nights that, in the end, had a happy ending.

Unidentified Man: The river was behaving like an ocean, like an ocean. It was scary. It was horrifying.

MCCARTHY: You stayed here.

Unidentified Man: Yes, I stayed there. I was up there on the dyke trying to plug this seepages or leaks. It was basically an all-out effort by the entire residential community of the city. It was one marvelous motivational scene.

HANSEN: Julie McCarthy, you had your own exciting moments. Explain why the army had to come and rescue you.

MCCARTHY: Well, we'd spent the entire day trying to reach what was then the cutoff city of Dera Gazi Khan in southern Punjab, which was really ravaged by the flood. We were losing light and knew that we had to move or we were going to be stuck there. So, we had to catch the last ride out, and we did. And halfway through the flood tides on this truck, the engine flooded. And our hearts just sank, the idea that we were going to be stuck in this water that was rising above us.

Well, who happens along but Captain Farouk of the army who we had met earlier in the day. His troops had given us a boat ride in this tiny little rickety craft that was overloaded with families and barely stayed afloat. And that same captain, who we obviously had thanked profusely for that boat ride, happens along in this convoy of army trucks. And after three passes at maneuvering his convoy close enough to us, we trapezed over into these army boats out of this stranded truck.

HANSEN: You saw so many people in such distress. Was there someone who really stood out for you, a moment perhaps that was especially memorable?

MCCARTHY: There was one woman. There was one scene that I found really sort of revealing and kind of touching and almost funny at the same time. She was in camp in a tented community that the Air Force had set up. Her name was Jijan Kosa(ph), and she stood at the flap of her tent that had only this hardened mud floor. And this is where she and her 17-member family were encamped. That's where they slept.

She tells me this after she tells me that - the way she has to bathe. All she can do is spray herself down fully clothed at night. So, I go to one of the Air Force doctors and I ask about matting for them to sleep on. And the doctor tells me, you know, we issue these mats and they sell them - the flood victims sell them.

Well, by chance I turn around after he says this to me and I say goodbye to him, and who's standing there but Jijan - the woman - she's standing there at the health clinic where I had buttonholed the doctor. And I approached her, and I asked her if she sold her mat, and here's the encounter.

Did your family sell the bed rolls? Did they sell any plastic that the Air Force had given them?

Ms. JIJAN KOSA: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: We didn't receive any mats, is what she's saying, and she looks at me like I'm crazy and says, you know, I've got 17 people in my family, most of them are little children. Why would I sell a mat when we knew we had to sleep on the mud? Then she cocks her head, puts her hands on her hips and with utter earnestness, looks at me and says, when am I going to get my mat?

So, this woman who bathed with her clothes on, provided us the refrain that seemed to sum up so much of the misery. When am I going to get my mat?

HANSEN: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad. Julie, thank you so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Liane.

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