Mexican health authorities, citing the increasing risk of epidemics, are pressuring the government to bury the hundreds of decaying bodies that have been recovered from the ruins left by Thursday's earthquake.
But resistance in this deeply Roman Catholic society to the idea of interring the dead without proper ceremony or the presence of family is strong.
"They are taking them away to be buried without telling us," complained a heavy-set woman wearing a black ankle-length dress, one of the tens of thousands of people dressed in mourning in the city today. After visiting all of the morgues, she had not yet found her sister, whose body had been pulled Thursday morning from a ruined hospital building, she said.
Sensitive to these sentiments, officials denied reports of mass burials and cremations of the unidentified. "We are not authorized to say how many bodies we have received, but the one thing I can tell you is that we have not cremated any unidentified corpses -- none," said Jose Manuel Villagorda, chief of the Mexico City government bureau that regulates cemeteries.
With the final death toll expected by many to approach 10,000, Mexico City's cemeteries are becoming saturated quickly, adding to strains on families and officials forced to seek burial space far outside the capital or to order cremation because of lack of gravesites.
At a cemetery near Chapultepec Park today, family groups gathered and waited for burial services to begin.
"Frankly, I don't have any idea how many have come in here so far," said Raul Fragoso, director of the Panteon de Dolores crematorium, one of three such modern facilities being used for hundreds of the more than 2,000 bodies that have been recovered from the ruins.
"We have been working round the clock since Thursday night," Fragoso said. "The records are being sent on to our offices, but here we've lost count. The bodies keep coming."
Bodies also were arriving continually to a common grave in the cemetery. As many as 70 unidentified corpses were buried yesterday, according to cemetery workers, and dozens more were trucked in today.
At the huge San Lorenzo Tezonco cemetery in southeastern Mexico City, 10 miles from the earthquake zone, 110 unidentified victims were interred in a hastily excavated gravesite yesterday and 400 more were to be brought there today, according to local press reports.
But hundreds of still unidentified bodies remain at destroyed building sites and at temporary morgues, officials acknowledge.
A Monday night deadline has been set now for the bodies' final disposal. As many as 2,000 corpses, however, may never be extracted from the rubble under which they remain, and officials said today that many of the collapsed buildings are slated to be dynamited and fumigated to check the spread of disease.
Even before the earthquake, authorities had warned that the city's cemeteries were filled nearly to capacity. Greater Mexico City's population has doubled to more than 17 million in the past 15 years, but no large new cemeteries have been opened during that time.
Many public cemeteries charge a nominal annual "rental" for gravesites and moratorium niches, a fee that until recently rarely was demanded. Last year, some cemeteries began systematically removing urns and caskets from spaces where these payments long since had lapsed.