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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Volunteers Give Proper Burials

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan -- With the smell of rotting corpses hanging in the air, six men in green turbans gathered before a body covered by a white shroud, spread their hands and whispered a prayer.

The six, all members of the volunteer group Dawat-e-Islami, had come to the Medina Market in Muzaffarabad to give proper Islamic burials to the victims of Saturday's 7.6-magnitude quake, which leveled the city and killed tens of thousands of people.

Adhering to Muslim tradition requiring that the dead be buried quickly, the volunteers sprang to work Tuesday shortly after the body -- a man who appeared to be in his 40s -- had been pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building by workers and residents.

They cleansed the dirt-caked corpse and wrapped him in a starched white sheet that they had carefully picked from a plastic bag containing more than 100 others and after a short prayer delivered the victim to a charity group for burial.

"In our religion, it is important to cover the body in white because when he meets God he should be without any spot," said Shahid Tatar, a soft-spoken man who could barely be heard over the surgical face mask that covered his nose and mouth.

The smell of the rotting corpses hung heavy in Medina Market.

Just two hours into their vigil Tuesday, the six volunteers had already performed the final rites on nine bodies. The day before they had performed the rites 50 times.

Dozens of Dawat-e-Islami members have come to the capital of Pakistani Kashmir to help identify and bury the dead. Tatar's group, from different parts of Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, came together after seeing the first reports of the devastation wrought by Saturday's earthquake.

"But really I didn't expect it to be this bad," Tatar said.

Islamic tradition requires the dead to be buried before sunset on the same day that they die, a tall task given that thousands of bodies have been buried in the rubble for days as rescuers -- mostly residents and family members -- have dug with picks, shovels and bare hands in an often vain attempt to reach those still alive.

In Indonesia, relief workers coping with thousands of deaths following last December's Asian tsunami initially laid the dead out on sidewalks for relatives to identify. But within hours, the sight and smell prompted Muslim leaders to sanction mass burials, digging graves without regard for protocol.

Identifying the dead in Muzaffarabad has also been difficult. Tatar said that bodies with identification papers are handed to their families, but such cases have been rare.

Like many others in Muzaffarabad, 16-year-old Nasmat Iftikar has been left to search for relatives already laid to rest by the burial brigades. She has lived since the earthquake beneath a sagging piece of plastic on a filthy waterlogged field in the heart of the city, spending her waking hours searching.

"My father is dead I am sure, but I want to know, I want to see him."