NASSAU, BAHAMAS – During a recent town hall meeting for displaced Abaconians, residents raised concerns over “conflicting reports” on the identification and release of relatives killed during the passage Hurricane Dorian.
Residents were given an opportunity to put questions to Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis, and Chairman of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority John Michael Clarke about ongoing recovery efforts on the island.
The forum was hosted by the recently formed “Abaco Will Rise” organization.
One man asked: “Why has there been so many conflicting reports about our loved ones who have already been identified and they still can’t get the body released?”
Lewis advised that he “will seek to get an answer and I will communicate with you directly, with respect to timelines and windows.”
Last week, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands confirmed that 51 bodies still remained in refrigerated trailers on Abaco some three months after the storm
Sands told reporters outside Cabinet that the remains of four people from Abaco, and all bodies found in Grand Bahama have been released.
According to Sands, there have been ten confirmed deaths in Grand Bahama, 55 in Abaco, and six in New Providence.
Sands said DNA sampling could take as long as six to nine months.
On Monday, Denalee Penn-Mackey, cofounder of ‘Abaco Will Rise’ and principal of Evergreen Mortuary, said a decision needs to be made on the matter.
Penn-Mackey said she was among the group of morticians who went to the island in the days immediately after the storm to help in the recovery and care of bodies found.
“We were responsible for recovering a whole lot of bodies that are still in the trailer packed up at the clinic in Marsh Harbor,” she said.
“I know for sure that DNA samples were taken from those people.
“I know for sure that tissue samples were taken. I can tell you who was released and I can pretty much tell you some of who are in there.
Penn-Mackey continued: “I have personally, people calling me, Bahamians, wanting to know when they can lay their loved ones to rest so that they can move on. I have spoken to the relevant persons and I don’t know that the answer would suffice.
“A lot of those persons were badly decomposed. A lot of those persons we had to label them John Doe 1, John Doe 2, and John Doe 3.”
Penn-Mackey said that there has been overall poor communication with families of Dorian victims and the processes they need to take in order to reclaim the body of their relative.
“I just think there needs to be a decision,” she said.
Penn-Mackey said the government also must decide what it will do with the trailer of bodies on the island.
“I had a few calls from the administrative persons at the hospital asking me, when ya’ll coming to move this trailer,” Penn-Mackey said.
“I said ‘well listen that trailer belongs to the government’.
“We have only done what we were asked to do but now it’s the government’s decision to decide what’s going to happen with those badly decomposed bodies.”
Sands has said the government would like to limit the amount of time bodies will remain in storage; however, there was no set deadline.