Dozens of well-wishers laid red carnations and plastic bottles of water at the wreckage of School Number One, its charred remains a haunting memory to a three-day deadlock that ended in bloody chaos.

"Why? What for? What for?" wept one woman over one of two coffins set under a blue tarp in a courtyard in Beslan, a town of 40,000, where seemingly everyone knew someone who was affected by the attacks.

Some 22 people were expected to be laid to rest on Sunday and the Patriarch of Russia's Orthodox church, Alexy II, asked that a mass be held in every church across the country to remember the victims of the siege.

Throughout Beslan, coffin lids leaned against apartment house entrances, alongside wooden stakes bearing names of the dead. Wailing echoed through some courtyards, where families were preparing food for ritual meals.

Mutilated

Toll figures continued to swing wildly, with the official toll standing at 338 people, with more than 400 others hospitalised.

Medical workers say several
bodies have yet to be identified

But one worker at a main morgue in the region said that nearly 400 bodies had already come in.

"As of yesterday, we have tagged 394," said Vita, a medical worker at the Vladikavkaz morgue.

"Some of the bodies are so mutilated the relatives can't recognise them, so we are taking samples of hair and blood," she said.

The three-day hostage drama ended in nightmarish scenes with half-naked, bloodied children fleeing from the school and the bodies of the dead rushed out on stretchers.

Orthodox churches across Russia held memorial services and
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Monday and Tuesday days of national mourning.