Hundreds of Bodies Remain in Mobile Morgues in New York City

Ralph Ellis

November 24, 2020

New York City, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, is still storing hundreds of bodies in refrigerated trucks at the Brooklyn waterfront, the Wall Street Journal  reported.

About 650 bodies have been stored in the trucks at the 39th Street Pier in Sunset Park, the newspaper said.

Source: Brian Smith/Sputnik via AP

In normal times, unclaimed bodies would be buried in an indigent graveyard on Hart Island, the newspaper reported. But New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio promised last spring, as coronavirus deaths spiked in the city, that mass burials wouldn't take place there.

The city's chief medical examiner's office said many of the people couldn't afford to pay for the burial or the deceased had families who couldn't be reached. When next-of-kin is contacted, they sometimes don't know what to do, said Dina Maniotis, the chief medical examiner's office's executive deputy commissioner.

"This has been traumatic," Maniotis told the Journal. "We are working with them as gently as we can and coaxing them along to make their plans. Many of them will decide they want to go to Hart Island, which is fine."

It's not clear how many of the bodies in the freezer trucks were the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forbes reported that 24,202 people died of coronavirus-related reasons in NYC, mainly during March-May. New York state reported at least 34,319 coronavirus-related deaths, the most in the country.

Aden Naka, deputy director of forensic investigations at the city medical examiner's office, told the Wall Street Journal the office was having to process up to 200 new cases daily during the height of the pandemic. The office normally handles about 20 deaths a day. 

About 15 people work to identify bodies and seven other employees try to contact next of kin, she said. Because of the backlog in cases, relatives sometimes didn't find out about a death until weeks or months had passed.

To show the breadth of the pandemic, the medical examiner's office sometimes discovered the next of kin had also died of coronavirus.

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