New Delhi/Gauchar: In the temple town of Kedarnath, cut off from the rest of Uttarakhand after flash floods devastated the state nearly two weeks ago, the grim task of performing a mass cremation for those who died finally began yesterday. (Full coverage)
Authorities refused to say how many bodies were cremated on Wednesday afternoon, after incessant rain held up the mass funeral for at least two days, raising much concern about a threat of disease from decomposing bodies and poor sanitation.
Bodies are decomposing and "under no circumstances can we allow an outbreak of an epidemic, senior disaster management official KN Pandey told news agency AFP. At least 600 bodies were found buried in silt in and around the 1000-year-old Kedarnath temple - one of Hinduism's most revered pilgrim sites - after a wall of water came tearing down the hillsides with car-sized boulders in tow last week.
In pockets of good weather, military helicopters have dropped truck-loads of firewood, ghee and other material needed for the mass-cremation.
The National Disaster Management Authority or NDMA has said that the funeral is likely to end by Friday. "A yagna is also been conducted in Haridwar for the departed souls. NDMA is coordinating and Uttarakhand government is taking care of the cremation," NDMA vice chairman M Shashidhar Reddy said.
In the town of Gauchar, which is the centre of rescue and relief operations, authorities have made arrangements to send a dozen Hindu priests to Kedarnath.
A police official in-charge of organising the cremations said belongings and documents recovered from bodies will be collected to help with identification and DNA samples will also be collected.
The death toll in the Uttarakhand disaster is 822; over 350 are still missing. Officials said close to 100,000 people have been rescued and evacuated so far, but at least 4,000 still remain stranded, most of them in Badrinath, another holy town. (Read) Entire towns were flattened by landslides that were followed by floods in the hill state. Roads were washed away and telecommunication links snapped, cutting off many parts of the state.