ERSAMA, India — The death count from India's supercyclone topped 7,600 Wednesday as villagers began burning rotting corpses and animal carcasses in exchange for food and money.
The federal Special Relief Commissioner's Office said 7,616 deaths had been counted, and the Red Cross predicted that the toll will climb past 10,000. Thousands of bodies remained unattended.
The exchange of work for food in disaster areas, not new to India, was put into effect Wednesday by Christian missionaries with help from the Indian army in a small part of the worst-affected Jagatsinghpur district.
Hundreds of villagers also began burning swollen carcasses of cows, buffalo and pigs, responding to a government promise of the equivalent of $3 for each destroyed animal. There are about 200,000 carcasses in the cyclone-hit area.
Authorities said relief had reached every part of the 300-mile coastal stretch battered by the Oct. 29 cyclone in the eastern state of Orissa. But they expressed fear that part of the millions of dollars in relief aid would be skimmed off before it reaches the starving and sick survivors.
"It has not started, but it is going to start," said Asit Tripathi, Orissa's industrial development director, who had sent out 1,000 truckloads of food, clothes and medicine from relief headquarters at a soccer stadium in the heart of the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
Misappropriation of relief funds is a concern in most rescue and aid campaigns after disasters in India. Three district administrators in cyclone-hit areas of Orissa were transferred Tuesday for mismanagement in fighting the crisis.
Amid complaints that relief had still not reached tens of thousands of poor villagers marooned in far-flung areas, a top state disaster management official, Dibendra C. Misra, said, "We have not been able to eliminate corruption at the grass-roots level."
Hours after the cyclone struck, state Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang complained on television that the aid offered by the central government was not in cash. On Tuesday, the state government asked the federal government not to send a team of experts to coordinate relief work and monitor spending.
However, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee appointed a committee headed by Defense Minister George Fernandes to direct and coordinate all federal rescue, relief and rehabilitation.
Orissa Special Relief Commissioner D. N. Padhi denied any wrongdoing in aid distribution.
"This is not a concern, not yet," he said. "These are general remarks by misinformed people. The softest target is the government."
The Red Cross said food-for-work was likely to be carried out across the disaster zone by the government and independent relief agencies.
"The feeling is to start work as soon as possible so that people get back their self-confidence and dignity and not just accept dole-outs," said Julian Francis of the Red Cross. "Psychologically, it is very important."
"We are organizing village volunteers, mostly young men," said Sister Shaila Alva, a missionary school principal from the nearby port city of Paradwip, which suffered severe damage. "We will give them medicine, food and money and take their help."
She said that in many villages, residents were walking past decaying corpses in their desperation to get food. Sometimes, villagers were waiting for an authority figure to tell them what to do.
"They will stack pyres for cremations, dig pits for burials and bring the dead," Sister Alva said. "We told them unless they do, we will not distribute rations."