Their dresses torn and their flowing black hair in tangles, women gathered along the shore Saturday to stare at the sea. Some began wailing for their fishermen husbands, missing in a cyclone and presumed dead.
Three days after the cyclone hit southeastern India, killing at least 1,000 people, the extent of the disaster was emerging.
People cremated their loved ones in funeral pyres along the coastline. Survivors gathered wood and palm leaves to rebuild their homes. Navy helicopters spent a second day dropping rice, drinking water, medicine and clothing to stranded people.
The cyclone swirled in Wednesday from the Bay of Bengal with 112-mph wind and torrential rain, toppling mud dwellings and submerging roads and rails in 2 feet of water.
The government has estimated more than 1,000 people died. A top state official said Saturday that nearly 1,000 fishermen are missing at sea.
Coast guard ships spotted the bodies of 50 fishermen Saturday off the coast near Kakinada, relief official Phanandra Reddy said.
“They had set out in their mechanized boats two to three days before the state authorities sounded an alert on Tuesday about the impending disaster,” Reddy said.
Fishermen - hunting mostly shark - remain at sea for five to seven days in primitive boats that rarely have radios. The women, most of whom were too shocked Saturday to talk, stay on shore to sell the fish.
A few miles from Kakinada, a port town of 500,000 that was among the hardest hit, Ranga Reddy lit the funeral pyre of his youngest son.
“For him, it’s salvation. For us it’s the beginning of a new battle to survive,” Reddy said, pointing to his son’s body, wrapped in a white sheet.
Reddy struck a match to a lump of camphor to ignite the wood while a man nearby stacked timber, awaiting more bodies. Some 617 bodies were identified by Saturday evening.
Outside the town of Rajamundhry, 30 miles inland, survivors scavenged through the mud for food, retrieving bananas from fallen trees.
The top state official, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, appealed to other states, international agencies and foreign countries for aid.
In five hours Wednesday night, the cyclone devastated the districts of East Godavari and West Godavari, home to 5 million people. It came just three weeks after another storm killed 350 people in a neighboring region.