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Pyre for railway disaster victims

THE SOMBRE chant of prayers echoed through the Himalayan foothills at the weekend when disfigured, rotting corpses were cremated, five days after hundreds were killed in one of India's worst train accidents.

As priests chanted hymns, thousands of villagers assembled by the Balasan river to witness the cremation of 145 bodies mangled in the wreckage of two express trains that slammed into each other in the dark early last Monday. The rest of the 285 victims were taken away by relatives for cremation.

Workers had stacked wood into funeral pyres by the Balasan, and at a second site by the nearby Shahu river.

Photographs of the bodies were taken on Friday to help to process compensation claims, officials said. Relatives of those thought to have died had visited two hospitals in north-east India where the dead were laid out. But with so many crushed beyond recognition, 190 dead remained unclaimed.

Fearing an epidemic from so many bodies decomposing, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, the highest elected official of West Bengal state, ordered the mass cremations. (AP)