Horrific images emerged of hundreds of saffron-covered corpses of COVID-19 victims floating along India’s Ganges River after monsoon monsoon floods dislodged corpses along the 1,550-mile waterway.
Families of the victims handed the bodies of their loved ones to the river or buried them in shallow graves on its banks – unable to afford funeral pyres at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in April and May, according to AFP – Press.
Nearly 150 corpses floating in the past three weeks have been cremated, officials in Allahabad, one of Hinduism’s holiest cities, told AFP, while crematoriums await new ones on the banks of the river.
Up to 600 bodies were buried along the sacred river as the virus escalated, according to officials, but locals believe this is a fraction of the true number and fear that more bodies may be displaced by the swift waters in the next few weeks.
Sonu Chandel, a boat that works in the crematorium, was shaken by the sight of families who buried their loved ones two months ago.
“It was really sad to see poor people burying their loved ones in such a humiliating way, but the rising waters made matters worse,” Chandel told AFP. “There is always a fear of (a body) hitting the paddle or (my boat) of running over a dead body in high water.”
People fear that if the bodies are not removed, one of the world’s most polluted waterways will become even more toxic.
“This … may cause serious diseases,” Deepin Kumar, who lives near the Ganges River in Allahabad, told the news agency. “The government should think about this and only they can come up with a plan.”
Even before the deadly disease broke out, millions of Hindus cremated their dead along the banks of the Ganges before scattering ashes into the river.
Some who could not afford wood or other materials for funeral rites would drown the bodies, while others bury the water as part of their religious tradition.
The body count in and around the river rose sharply during the recent record-breaking viral surge in India.
Locals said funerals – which can cost more than 7,000 rupees, about $100 – have compounded the hardships of those already struggling to make ends meet.
Police and state teams are now patrolling the river for bodies.
Authorities have placed two boats along the banks to retrieve the bodies, but have had little success in the past few days.
“The flow is very fast and it is a challenge to find the bodies now,” a police officer told AFP.