Health ministers says zero matches from DNA analysis
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Fifty unclaimed storm victims who remain in a refrigerated trailer in Abaco will be buried on the island in another three to four weeks, Eyewitness News can confirm.
“To your question of burial, we have repeatedly said that at some point those remains have to buried with dignity,” said Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands.
“The body with responsibility for disaster recovery and reconstruction; that authority have been in the process of identifying an appropriate site.
“I do not know where that site is, but we have begun the process of identifying a site and identifying a group of mortuaries to participate in the process of interment of these remains.”
Sands said: “If at any point there is a match to any sample, to any loved ones, that we can say the remains of your loved one is in this particular spot, but as [today], there are no matches.”
It has been more than five months since Hurricane Dorian ravaged portions of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Speaking to Eyewitness News, Sands said of the 50 sets of remains being stored, none of them matched DNA samples taken from purported relatives.
He said despite claims from families that their relatives are among the victims, there is “no DNA or forensic evidence to support that”.
“At the end of the day the process now requires that we; there have been two separate trains of thought in terms of ‘these bodies have been held for too long,” Sands continued.
“Given the state of decomposition in which all of the bodies were found, some of them were able to recognize race or I’m advised sex or age; the DNA become critical in terms of confirming this is your loved one.
“And so, while we collectively understand the very, very important need for closure — closure has to be gotten on the basis on irrefutable evidence.”
He added: “And so, if you do not have DNA match — John Doe has given DNA; his DNA does not match any bodies in the trailer, then what do I say?
“The process of DNA matching can take anywhere from six to nine months.
“That is not based on any attempt to do DNA sequencing in The Bahamas. The samples are sent to forensic labs in the United States.”
Sands said pathologists have performed autopsies on each of the victims.
Asked when the mass burial will occur, Sands said it could take place in “another three to four weeks”.
It remains unclear how many DNA samples have been collected.
Meanwhile, victim’s families continue to call on the government to release the remains of loved ones.
Citha Silien, a Bahamian of Haitian descent, said her mother, brother and cousin, attempted to seek refuge in a church in Marsh Harbour during the record storm.
However, she said her mother was struck by an object and died in her arms before they could reach safety. Her brother also went missing during the storm.
“I can’t verify them and said they said I need the blood work,” she said.
“[When] I was in Abaco, I found my mummy still on the floor. I have proof. I have the shoes that she had on and the chain that she had on.
Silien pointed to the chain around her neck.
She said she has photos of her brother’s and her mother’s bodies, though decomposed
“My problem is I want to bury them,” she said.
“NEMA told me I have to say that they are missing and because I don’t want to say that, they say that I am crazy.
“But my Mum, my brother and my cousin are not missing. My mummy is dead. My cousin is dead and my brother is dead.”
Silien said she has heard the government plans to soon bury the storm victims whose bodies have not been identified, but asked, “why is it a problem for me to bury them?”
She said: “I am asking for help because I want to bury them. I want my mother to rest. I want my brother to rest.”