Dorian burials delayed before COVID-19

Dorian burials delayed before COVID-19
Aerial shot of The Mudd, Abaco post-Dorian.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – As the government anticipates another delay of the burials of unclaimed Dorian victims due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), some Abaco residents insist it’s six months too late.

Earlier this month, officials indicated that a national service would be held to bury the remains of 50 Hurricane Dorian victims still in coolers on Abaco.

However, since then the country has gone into a state of emergency as health officials try to get a grip on the local spread of COVID-19.

When asked about those pending burials while as a guest on Freedom March with Rodney Moncur, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands insisted that very specific plans were being made to complete that process.

“It was supposed to happen around now and unfortunately I believe that we have been somewhat distracted yet again,” he said.

“The graves are being dug and once that’s completed, I believe that all of those victims will be granted a proper Christian burial.”

Sands indicated that steps are being taken to have the process accelerated amidst the delays.

However, the government’s emergency powers order, implemented last week, stipulate that large funerals are not permitted, limiting the ceremonies to ten members of the immediate family and at least one officiant and essential mortuary staff.

Health officials have advised that social distancing or physical distancing is the best way to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and thus gatherings with 10 or more people should not be permitted.

But Abaconians yesterday insisted that the delay for burial has been ongoing prior to the coronavirus crisis.

“While COVID-19 has delayed the burial which we understand, what happened six months and two weeks before COVID-19,” said Denalee Penn-Mackey, cofounder of ‘Abaco Will Rise’ and principal of Evergreen Mortuary.

The organization held a memorial/candlelight vigil for the Dorian victims earlier this month on Abaco, where scores of residents came together to mourn the loss of their friends and relatives.

There was standing room only in the New Vision Ministry Church, with those attending noting that the event was long overdue.

“They have come to a place of acceptance,” Penn-Mackey said.

“They came to a place where they have released that grief and they have accepted the deaths.

“Many of them have said whatever the government do with that trailer now they just don’t care.”

The Category 5 storm, which decimated communities in Grand Bahama and Abaco last September affected nearly 30,000 people and killed at least 74 people.

It remains unclear how many people are still missing.

In December, during a town hall meeting for displaced Abaconians, residents pleased with govt. officials to release the bodies of relatives killed during the storm.

But Sands has maintained that despite multiple efforts to get DNA matches, none of the stored remains matched DNA samples taken from purported relatives.

He told Moncur’s listening audience that out of the bodies recovered on Abaco, only four were collected after identification.

“Samples would have been taken from the victim to get both tissue and bone, to get a DNA read and then samples from those people presenting,” he explained.

“The expectation would be that you would get a match. There have been no matches.”

He continued, “What will happen now is those remains will be interred in a proper fashion and the hope would have been to have a memorial service that now becomes a challenge give the orders which are now directing what we do.

“We will have to make a definitive decision as to what will happen now in the era of COVID-19.”

The government had allocated some $275,000 for the burial of unclaimed Dorian victims – which was expected to come from the consolidated fund, according to a Ministry of Health post-Dorian strategic response plan of action.

About Sloan Smith

Sloan Smith is a senior digital reporter at Eyewitness News, covering a diverse range of beats, from politics and crime to environment and human interest. In 2018, Sloan received a nomination for the “Leslie Higgs Feature Writer of The Year Award” from The Bahamas Press Club for her work with Eyewitness News.