Orlando buries its dead in wake of gay club massacre

 A mourner places a flower near the grave of Pulse night club shooting victim Anthony Luis Laureano Disla after his funeral in Orlando, Florida, US on June 17, 2016.
A mourner places a flower near the grave of Pulse night club shooting victim Anthony Luis Laureano Disla after his funeral in Orlando, Florida, US on June 17, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
People hug as they arrive for the funeral of Peter Gonzalez-Cruz and Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, both victims of the shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida, US, on June 17, 2016.
People hug as they arrive for the funeral of Peter Gonzalez-Cruz and Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, both victims of the shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida, US, on June 17, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI (AFP) - Orlando turned to burying its dead on Friday (June 17), with funerals for at least five of the 49 people killed in last weekend's massacre at a gay nightclub - the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

More burials were expected over the weekend as the resort city better known for theme parks like Disney World struggles to recover from the shooting by lone gunman Omar Mateen, who ran amok with a legally purchased assault rifle and pistol and was killed when police stormed the club.

One of those being buried on Friday was Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, a 25-year-old dancer who traces his heritage to Puerto Rico. This is the community hardest hit in the massacre.

"He was a very talented dancer who was loved and will be missed by all," his obituary at the Newcomer funeral home reads.

Three others being buried on Friday were also in their 20s, while the fifth is a man who was 50 when his life was cut short, according to local TV station WKOW.

The process of saying goodbye began Wednesday with a wake for Javier Reyes, a 40-year-old salesman also of Puerto Rican origin. The first burial was held Thursday in Kissimmee, an Orlando suburb.

Officials say Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in his final hours of life inside the nightclub. But witnesses said he had frequented the gay club himself in the past, as well as using gay dating apps, raising questions over the motive for the attack.

Meanwhile, aid to families kept flowing through a centre set up at a sports stadium.

A total of 94 families have received aid - including such things as free plane tickets for grieving relatives to fly to Orlando - since the centre was set up Wednesday, mayor Buddy Dyer told a news conference.

Families are also being offered counselling, money for medical care and funerals, and help in getting visas for people seeking to come from abroad to claim bodies.

In one case, 16 members of one family showed up just seeking information about burying their loved one. In the end, the different agencies working out of the assistance center together found ways to help that family, said Amy Decker of the American Red Cross.

As funeral preparations proceeded, an ultra-conservative, virulently anti-gay organisation called the Westboro Baptist Church convened a rally near a church where two wakes will be held on Saturday, according to the church's web page.

Members of an LGBT community center held a counter rally Thursday outside a church to denounce that organisation's intolerance of gays.

President Barack Obama travelled to Orlando on Thursday to meet with grieving relatives, staff at the Pulse gay nightclub and emergency medical crews who responded to the slaughter.

The massacre has added new fuel to America's partisan political wars, prompting new salvos in bitter election-year arguments over immigration, counterterrorism and guns.

After meeting with victims' families, Obama said "our hearts are broken too" and insisted the tone of the country's hyper-partisan debate on firearms needs to change.

Relatives of the victims "don't care about the politics. And neither do I," Obama said.

The Republican-controlled US Congress has steadfastly refused to pass any new gun legislation, saying to do so would infringe on the constitutional rights of gun owners.

In response to the shooting, Republicans have called for tougher counterterrorism measures and for the Obama administration to do more to fight ISIS.

FBI agents believe that Mateen, a Muslim American of Afghan origin, was radicalised by following extremist propaganda online.