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     “Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.”

Isaiah   29:6

Great Earthquakes In Diverse Places

Grim end for Tibetans killed in quake

by Staff Writers
Jiegu, China (AFP) April 17, 2010

Reaching out with a flaming broom, Tibetan Buddhist priest Jiemi Zhangsuo touched a pile of hundreds of petrol-soaked victims of China's earthquake and released their souls to heaven.

The naked corpses of men, women and children -- nearly all ethnic Tibetan -- leapt into flames, the stench of decaying bodies mingling with the odours of petrol and acrid smoke amid somber Buddhist chants.

The grim scene in the earthquake-shattered town of Jiegu on Saturday underlined the heavy Tibetan toll of the disaster that has overwhelmed this poor, high-altitude region.

Tibetans traditionally prefer "sky burials" in which corpses are left to the elements or vultures on mountaintops, but the scale of the disaster which killed more than 1,100 people meant that was not an option due to disease fears.

"This is the way we have to handle it today. There is no other way. Tibetans prefer a sky burial but there is no way we can do that for so many," a Tibetan named Zhande involved in the mass cremation told AFP.

The bodies were trucked to the site in the morning from a collection point at the Jiegu monastery, perched on treeless, brown mountains with a stunning view of the rugged, high-altitude region.

Under the dim light of dawn, monks in their maroon-and-saffron habits calmly loaded the dead in trucks, often tossing them unceremoniously as they focused on their grisly task.

The long line of vehicles then wound its way through the centre of the subdued, quake-shattered town past fields of rubble and Chinese security personnel cleaning up the devastation.

The corpses were then lowered into a trench 150 metres (500 feet) long and 100 metres wide, its floor lined with wood and tyres.

Buddhist priests said 1,400 were cremated Saturday, many brought straight to the site by their relatives, although the official toll remained at 1,144 dead and hundreds more missing.

The bodies, many of them bruised and bloodied, were piled in the trench as some monks blessed them and others sprinkled them with petrol.

Hundreds of monks around the pit and lining surrounding hills chanted as about 1,000 sombre quake survivors gathered to watch.

Red and yellow Buddhist banners were placed on the bodies along with about 200 large blue cannisters of yak butter -- used to light lamps and in religious ceremonies. The pyre was then lit, sending up thick black smoke.

"We have never had a disaster like this. We have never had so many people die," said Jiemi Zhangsuo, who is in his 60s and who heads Jiegu's main Tibetan Buddhist monastery which oversaw the cremations.

"Cremation is the only way to send these souls off."

The quake occurred in Yushu county, an area whose population is more than 90 percent Tibetan, an ethnic group with a long history of chafing at Chinese rule.

The cremation ceremony was the latest example of the region's Buddhist monks rolling up their sleeves in response to the disaster, even as state propaganda organs have trumpted government efforts to rush aid to the region.

Monks have dug through rubble in search of victims and fed hungry survivors, while Western television footage has shown others salvaging photos of the Dalai Lama, vilified by Beijing as a separatist symbol in the region.