Hundreds of bodies remain in storage in freezer trucks in New York months after their deaths during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, The Wall Street Journal reported.
City officials told the Journal that there are about 650 bodies in storage on the 39th Street Pier in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the bodies are largely those of people who could not afford a burial or whose next of kin could not be located.
Such bodies would ordinarily have been buried on Hart Island, according to the newspaper, but Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) pledged in April that those burials would not occur during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 230 victims’ relatives have not yet been located, the chief medical examiners’ office said. Officials said relatives have not had the money to collect the bodies in other cases.
The city nearly doubled the burial subsidy it offers in May, the Journal noted, but the $1,700 offered is still far short of the $9,000 average cost for a traditional burial or the $6,500 cost of a service and cremation.
Dina Maniotis, the chief medical examiner’s office’s executive deputy commissioner, told the newspaper that while anyone has the right to request a free burial on Hart Island, numerous family members are not clear on their options.
“This has been traumatic,” she said. “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.”
Aden Naka, the office’s deputy director of forensic investigations, added that the unit is only equipped to handle about 20 deaths per day, about one-tenth of those it was faced with at the height of the pandemic in the city.