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Sunday, November 14, 1999 Published at 15:08 GMT

World: South Asia

Race to cremate cyclone corpses

The Saibaba temple, partially submerged a fortnight after the cyclone struck

Rescue workers in the eastern Indian state of Orissa are speeding up the disposal of tens of thousands of corpses and animal carcasses to prevent a health disaster, following last month's devastating cyclone.

Orissa: After the storm
State officials say they face a daunting task, as many areas are still under water.

A spokesman for the chief minister said hundreds of tankers carrying kerosene had reached Orissa to assist in the cremation of the decomposing bodies and carcasses that are strewn across the state.

"We plan to burn bodies where we find them instead of lugging them to pyres for mass cremations because there is no way we can collect so many of them," said spokesman Rajesh Singh.

[ image: A doctor examines a child suffering from diarrhoea in Ersama]
A doctor examines a child suffering from diarrhoea in Ersama
Indian officials say the corpses are posing a bigger threat than starvation. In some areas, soldiers and volunteers have temporarily suspended relief work to divert manpower for the disposal of bodies.

District authorities have committed themselves to clearing all the corpses by 20 November.

"Bloated corpses are everywhere," one official said. "Each time the floodwaters recede a few inches we find grotesque bodies of men, women and children. The stench is unbearable."


[ image:  ]
The official death toll now stands at more than 9,500, with most of the victims in Jagatsinghpur, one of 12 coastal districts ravaged by the 29 October "super cyclone".

Relief workers said some 8,000 people in the district were still missing, fuelling fears the toll could reach 20,000 after waters recede.

Orissa's health secretary, Meena Gupta, said the government was "monitoring closely" an outbreak of water-borne diseases. Some 50 cases of cholera have so far been detected in the region.

"We are fully confident of keeping the threat in check," she said.

[ image: A queue for precious kerosene, which is used as domestic fuel]
A queue for precious kerosene, which is used as domestic fuel
According to Niranjan Sethi, an official from Orissa's relief department, the carcasses of about 60,000 cattle had been burned so far.

"We have deployed 311 doctors and 515 paramedics and sent sufficient fodder for the surviving cattle," he said.

He added that more than 29,000 tonnes of rice, medicines and emergency supplies had been delivered to the affected areas, and that 44 of 121 state-run drinking water networks had been repaired.

A federal task force has recommended equipping nearly 12 million cyclone victims with money and farm animals to help them rebuild their lives.

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