Red Cross: Myanmar dead may never be identified

Tens of thousands of people killed in last month's cyclone may never be identified because their bodies have decomposed so badly and many ended up far from home, an aid organization said Sunday.

The task of burying an estimated 78,000 bodies has been overshadowed by efforts to assist Cyclone Nargis' 2.4 million survivors, many of whom are still without adequate food, water and shelter, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

As a result, bloated bodies still litter the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta more than five weeks after the storm. Other bodies have been dumped in canals or unmarked mass graves.

“Many now are in advanced stages of decay and the information we have been able to gather is that many of the bodies that were affected by the tidal surges were stripped of clothing and any identifying items,” said Craig Strathern, a Red Cross spokesman in Myanmar.

The Red Cross has received reports that some bodies ended up more than four miles from their place of origin, he said.

The organization last week began distributing kits to volunteers that include body bags and forms to list where a body is buried and any identifying details, Strathern said. But he said he doubted there would be any large-scale effort to identify victims.

Myanmar law allows families to declare someone dead after three weeks.

Survivors said they tried to identify bodies but were overwhelmed by the numbers of dead clogging rivers and washing up on beaches.