Samples could take as long as six to nine months
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government is in discussions with the International Red Cross to collect DNA samples from Hurricane Dorian survivors in hopes of identifying 51 unclaimed storm victims who remain in refrigerated trailers in Abaco.
Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands made the revelation to Eyewitness News Online as he explained why the government has yet to bury those victims.
Sands said he believes some relatives may have not come forward because of concerns about their status.
He said in order to overcome that challenge the Red Cross will step in to act as intermediary body to collect samples for testing.
However, the minister reiterated sampling could as long as six to nine months.
“We are already in discussions with them,” Sands said.
“But even after the DNA testing is done it could be six to nine months before you get an answer. People have already said they gave their DNA. Even if there is a match, there is no guarantee that the samples would have been completed already, so this is the unfortunate reality.”
Sands explained that in order to preserve the dignity of those who have lost their lives and out of abundance of consideration for the families affected, it is not possible to allow individuals to attempt to identify the deceased by sight.
He said: “You would have to go through 50 body bags of decomposed remains [and say for example]: ‘Is that your mother? No; is this your mother? Think about the trauma to that individual. And think about the violation of the people who are viewed that way if you are not absolutely certain that this is your loved one.
“So, someone can say to me, it’s a female. Well, we have let’s say for example 20 females. So, do you look at 20 females? Do you look at all 20 of them? You can’t do that, though people have asked.”
The minister added: “Let us be guided by practices; let us be humane; let us treat people with dignity because that is the right thing to do.”
Dorian decimated communities of Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.
The Category 5 storm displaced thousands and killed at least 71 people.
As of October 18, 282 people were missing.
It is unclear how many people remain missing.
Sands said each victim will receive a dignified and proper burial.
The government has allocated $275,000 for the burial of unclaimed victims of Hurricane Dorian, according to a Ministry of Health report titled ‘Post-Dorian: health sector strategic response plan of action’.
The government had initially put that cost at $75,000, according to a previous post-Dorian health sector action plan.
That action plan said the “cost assumes approximately 50 unclaimed victims at a burial cost of $1,500 each”.
The latest plan, completed earlier this month, put the cost of burial of the 50 unclaimed victims at $5,500 each.
The plan does not explain the increase.
The action plan also recommended allocating $35,000 for Cabinet and the National Emergency Management Agency to identify and acquire a plot of land within three months.
When asked, Sands said the government has not identified the land as yet.