Flames of funeral pyres light path of quake

THERE were no twisted bridges, deep gashes in the road or any other tell-tale signs of a major earthquake. The countryside in eastern Maharashtra seemed green and tranquil; dappled fields of sunflowers and corn. The first indication of a disaster, in which more than 25,000 people are feared dead, was the grey smoke rising from countless funeral pyres.

The flames leapt high, for up to 30 corpses were being cremated in each bonfire. Then women began to appear beside the road. Their keening was a piercing, agonised wail, and they pounded their foreheads with their fists and wept.

The devastation covers a 60-mile radius, spreading from the epicentre of Thursday's earthquake, which struck at 3.56am on a day when many farmers had flocked to the villages and were sleeping off a celebration honouring Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god, usually associated with wealth and good luck. In 13 villages in the Latur and Osmanabad districts of Maharashtra nearly every home has been destroyed, smashed into mounds of dirt and stone.

Narasimha Rao, the Prime Minister, said the army had been placed on a war footing, and thousands of troops, armed with shovels and mechanical earthmovers, were being sent to the region.

But 24 hours after the tremor, only a few soldiers had begun trickling in to Khilari, a village where at least 6,000 people, more than half the population, may have perished. Instead, student volunteers searching for survivors were forced to claw away at the debris with their bare hands.

It was not until late yesterday, 36 hours after the quake, that the giant army convoys began converging on the disaster area. Khilari's headman, S D Padsalgi, an elderly man in shock, bit his lip to keep from crying and said: 'No survivors were found today. There are dead people under every rock. But we cannot find any living.'

Most of the victims lived in homes made of stone slapped together with mud and straw, and the quake brought it all down. A dog howled from a rooftop, and a horrible stench of death, human and animal, arose from the rubble.

One volunteer relief worker, barefoot and with no tools, tore at the stones and fallen beams like a madman trying to free a corpse. Then, as suddenly as he had begun his labour, he cursed and ran away, realising, perhaps that he alone could never do it.

People wandered through Khilari numbed by grief. There was an air of hopelessness, a sense that it would be a miracle for anyone to survive under this avalanche of mud and stone, and that it was a pointless nightmare even to search.

India has decided 'in principle' to accept all foreign offers of aid, a Foreign Ministry official said in New Delhi. Members of the large Asian community in Britain are sending donations through the Indian High Commission in London. In Washington yesterday, the Defense Department said the US military was preparing to send two cargo planes with tents, water containers and medical supplies.

Tremors shook eastern Maharashtra state yesterday. Fearing another earthquake, most of the surviving villagers salvaged what they could - a battered radio, a sewing machine, a Hindu idol - from their ruined homes and fled. Relief workers have set up clinics and kitchens for refugees.

One local official, Pradip Parti, had dragged the bodies of his aunt and two cousins from their ruined home. He placed them on a door, piled on stacks of wood, doused them with petrol and set them alight. 'How can we rebuild our homes? We are poor farmers. We have no money. And how do we know that the Bhu-Kum - the earthquake - will not strike again? No, we will never come back to this village. Never,' he said, gazing deep into the flames of the funeral pyre.

(Photograph omitted)

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice