India struggles to dispose of dead

RESCUE AND relief workers struggled to dispose of hundreds of dead bodies as floodwaters from the powerful cyclone that battered India's eastern state of Orissa receded yesterday.

Officials said they faced a daunting task, with many areas of the state still under water. "I have my doubts about the disposal of dead bodies by the end of the month." said S K Jha, a state government official in charge of relief operations at Ersama, 80 miles from the state capital Bhubaneshwar.

Mr Jha said volunteers and health workers were finding it difficult to clear the bodies because of a shortage of boats, many of which were damaged beyond repair in the killer cyclone.

The government, which has been criticised for a slow response to the tragedy, said the confirmed death toll from the storm that struck the coastal state on the Bay of Bengal on 29 October had reached 9,504. Officials say they do not expect the toll to exceed 10,000, but more than two weeks after the disaster there are still inaccessible pockets where the extent of the tragedy is unknown.

In the once agriculturally prosperous Ersama area, part of the worst-hit Jagatsinghpur district, Nrushingha Charan Swain, a state government official, said more than 6,500 had died, while village workers said they had counted over 10,000 missing.

Millions of people have lost their homes and livelihoods, and the state is strewn with potentially disease-causing human corpses and animal carcasses.

The government said almost 300,000 cattle had been reported killed. However, state authorities have dismissed the prospect of an epidemic.