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Hundreds Dead In India Cyclone

Desperate survivors fled down mud-choked roads in search of food and drinking water Friday in the aftermath of a cyclone that flattened villages and killed at least 835 people in western India.

Unclaimed corpses, bloated and decaying in the heat, were burned in a mass cremation because they could not be preserved for identification by relatives. Many of the victims of Tuesday's cyclone were salt miners, whose families lived far away.

The government decision to burn the bodies violated the Hindu tradition of allowing the eldest son of the deceased to light the pyre.

In the hardest-hit state of Gujarat, workers continued to remove bodies flung onto power cables and trees or buried in sludge left behind by a tidal wave. In one city alone, the port of Kandla, rescuers retrieved 100 more bodies on Friday, said a government spokesman in Ahmedabad, the state capital. The discovery raised the state's death toll to 814.

The cyclone weakened Wednesday as it moved north, leaving nine more dead in Rajasthan state and 12 in neighboring Pakistan.

At least eight villages and three camps that housed salt factory workers were wiped out near Kandla, a port 330 miles northwest of Bombay.

Soldiers and government officials distributed food and water, and helicopters dropped supplies, but much more was needed.

"The poor are leaving what is left of their homes and walking to the next village in search of something to eat," survivor Tejabhai Desai said by telephone from Madhabar, a village near Kandla.

"All the water around here is salty. People can't even drink the rain water," Desai said.

Prices for necessities skyrocketed, with bottled water rising from about 23 cents to $1.25 in a country where many people make the equivalent of $1 a day.

Fifteen villages remained inaccessible; the army was helping to clear roads blocked by fallen trees and other debris.

Aid workers worried the exodus would create even more suffering.

"Hundreds of laborers are on the move in search of work. If they don't find work and can't pay for their next meal, there will be trouble," said Meher Bhatt, head of the Disaster Mitigation Institute in Ahmedabad, the Gujarat state capital.

He speculated the death toll would surpass 1,000 in Gujarat alone, where many residents are migrant laborers.

"Those working along the coast as salt workers or construction workers were migrant labor and local people don't know how many are missing. There will definitely be more than 1,000 dead," Bhatt said.

Although 20,000 people were evacuated from other villages on the Arabian Sea coast, officials did not include the Kandla region because the cyclone was not predicted to reach there.

"The rains came first and people rushed to bar doors and windows. Then with heavy winds came the wall of water. It was 16 feet high and buried everything. Only few of us could claw out by the," Desai said.

Written by Ramola Talwar
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