Mass Cremation for Victims of India’s Worst Train Wreck
FIROZABAD, India (AP) _ Fearful of disease, officials today began burning hundreds of bloated, decomposing corpses recovered from the worst train wreck in India’s history.
Tractors carried the shrouded bodies of Hindu victims to a field behind the city’s crematorium, near the tracks where two trains collided last week, killing 348 people.
Although cremation is a Hindu rite, no priests were present to chant prayers at the burning of 216 unidentified victims. Wrapped in sheets, the bodies were laid side-by-side, 20 at a time, on wooden funeral pyres 150 yards long.
Twelve corpses identified as Muslims were buried according to Islamic custom. Relatives identified 120 other bodies and took them away for private ceremonies.
``We can’t keep the bodies any longer. We are in the midst of a populated area, and there is a threat of disease spreading,″ said Ashok Tamta, the superintendent of police.
Firozabad, a city of 300,000 people near the crash site, does not have a morgue, and was unable to get enough ice from neighboring towns to preserve the bodies.
Before the cremation, officials left the decaying corpses lined up outside a hospital and in a park to give people a last chance to identify them.
Police were still searching for a signalman blamed for sending the Purshottam Express crashing into the Kalindi Express in northern India early Sunday.
The signalman, who vanished after the disaster, had given the Purshottam a green light, even though the Kalindi had stopped after hitting a cow and damaging its brakes, officials for India’s state-owned railway said.
A few soldiers continued to search through the wreckage of the trains, even after it had been cleared away from the tracks and the line reopened to traffic.
A quarter of the 2,200 passengers on the two trains were injured. Most of the passengers were sleeping when the collision occurred at 2:45 a.m. Both trains were bound for New Delhi, 185 miles north of Firozabad.
The death toll was the highest in the Indian railroad’s 142-year history. In 1981, 270 people were killed when a train plunged into a river.