New Delhi | “I’ve lost count,” sighs Sanjay, a priest who conducts the final rites of another deceased at a Delhi crematorium, so saturated that his disastrous activities now extend to the nearby parking lot.
“We start at sunrise and cremation continues until after midnight,” he told France Presse, and his sight faded amid the flames of incinerators and the piles of smoke ashes that were human not long ago before Covid-19 struck them.
Families mourn silently on the side of the road in this deprived part of the capital, awaiting the turn of their loved ones, wrapped in white linens and yellow velor wreaths.
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Ambulance sirens carrying other bodies continue to ring. Residents of buildings overlooking the facility are exposed to the smell of charred bodies and the moans of grieving families.
Indian hospitals and their staff are undergoing severe testing due to this devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
People are dying at the doors of hospitals or in their homes, due to a lack of beds, medicine and oxygen.
The cremators know no truce, their chimneys crack and end up melting in metal furnaces under the heat.
Wood is also running out at some establishments, and families are being asked to bring their own fuel.
Many crematoriums and cemeteries say the official death toll from the virus falls short of reality, given the influx of corpses they see in procession.
Over the past three days, the Seemapuri crematorium in Northeast Delhi has held over 100 funerals per day and is now out of space.
“We tried to absorb the cremation in the corridors and anywhere, but the bodies kept coming,” Coordinator Jitinder Singh Shanti told France Presse, wearing a yellow turban and a blue protective suit.
“We had to ask the authorities to allow us to expand the facility into the parking lot,” adds the Sikh, and orange flames were burning in the incinerators behind him at the end of the day. According to Jitender Singh Shanty, the crematorium has cremated around 600 bodies since the start of the month, and families continue to wait hours before they can perform the final corpse rituals.
“If the situation does not improve, we may have to cremate the bodies on the road, because we are out of place now,” he adds.