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Indian Corpses Still Being Found

January 23, 2000

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Three months after a cyclone slammed into eastern India, killing at least 10,000 people, visitors and residents say rotting corpses still lay in farm fields.

Millions of people were left homeless by the twister that devastated southeastern India in October, flooding much of eastern Orissa.

The corpse issue came into the public eye this week when popular Hindi movie director Mahesh Bhatt traveled to the region. After his visit, he told the media he had seen the bodies of a woman and child sprawled near a cyclone protection center in the Ersama region, one of the hardest-hit areas.

``The local people were quite amused by my alarm on seeing the bodies, and it indicated there were many more lying around,″ Bhatt said.

His remarks appeared in local newspapers Sunday, and officials said they were investigating.

``I have asked the district magistrate to check this and give me a report,″ Orissa’s Revenue Secretary Jugal Mahapatra said.

Speaking by phone from Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur town, local resident Bhav Kumar Panda said there were a few corpses still lying unattended in some areas, their skin parched. He said there were also a few hundred animal carcasses strewn across the farm fields and by village streams, and bleaching powder had been sprinkled on them to stop the stench.

``The people have got used to the stench. They keep working in the fields,″ he said.

Some 200,000 animals were estimated to have died in the cyclone. For several weeks, local residents refused to burn the bloating, disfigured carcasses even after the government offered people money to dispose them.

Bhatt said some residents still will not return to villages in Orissa that were wiped out in the cyclone.

``I went to this graveyard village to which people are not willing to return,″ he said. ``They think it is haunted.″

India’s eastern coastline is repeatedly battered by cyclones that brew in the Bay of Bengal. A cyclone in 1977 killed 10,000, and one in 1971 killed almost as many. An earthquake in 1993 also claimed about 10,000 lives and a heat wave in 1998 killed roughly 3,400.

Officials say repeated disasters push back development in the state by years and are one of the reasons why millions of people there live in extreme poverty. Many live below starvation levels even in normal times.

``You have to be blind not to see it,″ Bhatt said. ``The people of Orissa are living in medieval times.″

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