MULTAN, Pakistan — Using bulldozers, shovels and their bare hands, soldiers and volunteers worked desperately Wednesday to divert the raging Indus River as the death toll rose to 2,000 in Pakistan's worst flooding.
The government estimated the damage at $1.5 billion and said 2 million acres of productive farmland was washed away.
The floods, which have also killed more than 500 people in India, began devastating three provinces in northern and eastern Pakistan last Friday when three days of monsoon rains caused rivers to overflow their banks.
The floodwaters passed through Punjab, Northwest Frontier and Azad Kashmir provinces and were flowing into the Indus River and toward the southern province of Sind, where half a million residents were being evacuated.
Workers outside Multan struggled to clear away cement walls near the surging Indus to divert floodwaters into fields of cotton and rice.
The diversion, aimed at protecting the 1.5 million people in and around Multan, sent floodwaters surging toward Muzaffargarh, 30 miles south. Soldiers there piled sandbags atop cement walls outside the city.
In some areas, hills that escaped flooding became small islands that handfuls of people refused to leave.
Many of the homeless risk food poisoning by eating rice that was soaked in the contaminated water, according to health volunteer Javeed Ahmed.