As the floods forced most of Chennai and neighbouring districts to shut down, crematoriums and burial grounds worked overtime to cope with the spike in the number of bodies coming in. With burial grounds flooded too, many bodies had to be sent elsewhere, while some were tied to poles and trees so they wouldn’t get wet.
A grave digger at a burial ground near Marina beach said he had been working round the clock along with two others since the floods hit the state. “Most of the bodies were badly decayed,” he said.
While the government is yet to release the official death toll, police estimate the figure touched 514 Wednesday. “Most of the casualties are from Chennai and two neighbouring districts,” said an officer.
Corporation officials in charge of city crematoriums said they were helpless. “While the weekly average is 25-30 bodies, all functional burial grounds had more than 100 burials in the last one week,” one official said.
One burial ground, which typically sees about five burials a day, handled about 100 bodies in the week after the floods first hit on December 1, according to the registry kept there. “Nobody was able to commute, but they insisted that we work as there was no power to run the freezers where bodies are kept,” said a grave digger.
Most of the bodies came in after water started receding, a day after it was released from Chembarambakkam lake. “Most of them came from Royapettah government hospital. We had to struggle as the ground was also partially flooded,” said a worker.
At two grounds, bodies that had been buried resurfaced after the flood water receded. Many families shared instances of having to travel with a body to a far away crematorium or keeping a body at home for a day or two as they could not step out.
For instance, the family of Lt Col G Venkatesan, who died with his wife in the flood in Defence Colony near Guindy, had to travel all the way to Triplicane with their bodies.
A senior police officer who inspected a corporation-owned crematorium near Ottery said at least 50 bodies had to be kept “on hold” till Sunday as operations were stalled. “Bodies had piled up, all decayed badly. Crematoriums in T Nagar, Nungambakkam and Saidapet were flooded too,” he said.
On Wednesday, medical teams started visiting slums adjacent to burial grounds to ensure there is no outbreak of diseases.