Shut relationship between the dwelling and the lifeless in Haiti | World information

By MARK STEVENSON and EVENS SANON, Associated Press

LES CAYES, Haiti (AP) – Haiti’s unusually close relationship between the living and the dead has helped to partially hide the enormous numbers of Saturday’s earthquake: people in Haiti want to be close to their deceased relatives, sometimes even burying them in their front yards.

Haiti’s civil protection agency puts the number of deaths in the quake at almost 2,200. Questions had arisen as to how such a large number of dead could be dealt with or buried so quickly, but amateur burials and overcrowded private funeral homes might explain where all the bodies were hanging.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake injured more than 12,000 people, destroyed or damaged more than 100,000 homes, and left about 30,000 families homeless, officials said. Schools, offices, and churches – and even funeral homes and cemeteries – have been demolished or badly damaged.

Even in a nation that celebrates a Day of the Dead like Mexico, the quake has brought the living and the dead even closer together: In the countryside outside the city of Les Cayes, some of the crypts in the front yard were broken open by the violence of the quake and lay coffins free inside.

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And some of the living got closer to the grave than anyone should: Serge Chery, the head of civil defense for the southern province that includes Les Cayes, said his officers found two women buried in the rubble of a two-story building because they could communicate with the outside world via cell phones.

Such stories are common rumors in disaster areas. Chery said his department received countless false reports of such calls. “We dialed a number that people said was sending messages from a collapsed house, and a living person answered in Jeremie,” a nearby town.

But Chery refused to call real cell phone rescue a miracle.

“The only miracle was that at the time of the quake they had their phones charged and in hand and had plenty of room to dial afterwards,” said Chery.

State hospitals’ morgues, such as Les Cayes General Hospital, are almost empty. This is because, as the director of the hospital admits, she hadn’t had a functioning cooling system in the morgue for at least three months because of problems with the electrical equipment.

Instead, local residents know they must take the deceased to one of the dozen small, humble private funeral homes in the area.

There, at least air-conditioned rooms ensure that the bodies do not rot while the relatives struggle to raise enough money to cover the funeral expenses, which can amount to around $ 500, a fortune for the people in the poorest country in the hemisphere.

Jean Eddy Montezima runs one such salon on a tight budget, the St. Jaques funeral home in Les Cayes, and he’s overworked and fed up. While speaking to journalists, another rickety, informal “ambulance” – actually just an SUV with a folding stretcher in the rear – was pulled up with another body, a woman who died of natural causes in a local hospital.

That’s a good thing, because Montezima says he no longer accepts the bodies of earthquake victims. Fifteen corpses crowd its small, air-conditioned rooms. The woman’s body was carried into the living room and the relatives promised to come back later to make arrangements.

Montezima says he has been recording the bodies of at least 50 earthquake victims in his small building since Saturday, where a loud generator growls 24 hours a day to keep the air conditioners running so the bodies don’t disintegrate.

“A lot of people may not have the money to bury them,” said Montezima. “If the families don’t come back, I’ll probably have to make a mass grave with them.” Such a solution is sacrilege in Haiti, but the ailing funeral director has no choice.

“I’ve worked eight hours a day and now I have to work 24,” he said. “I burn $ 50 gas every day. We need an institution or a charity that donates to cover the costs. “

“In some cases the bodies were in such poor condition that we had to bury them immediately,” he said, adding that he could not turn the task over to the government. “If the body is badly decomposed, they won’t accept it in the morgue.”

But at some point the dead and the living have to separate.

Chery has the painful job of deciding with other authorities when to send heavy machinery to clear the debris, though he admits that doing so will “inevitably” lead to more corpses being churned up. Chery said 300 people are still missing in the Les Cayes area alone; many are probably still beneath tons of broken concrete and bricks.

“We are planning a meeting to start clearing all the destroyed lots because this will at least give the owner of this lot the opportunity to build something makeshift out of wood to live on this lot,” said Chery. “It will be easier To distribute help when people live at their addresses and not in a tent. “

He stressed the need to start engineering building inspections to find out which ones are safe. “If we want schools, banks and hotels to start working, we have to trust people because they don’t want to go back to these buildings now,” said Chery.

“In Haiti, it’s something cultural; Families are attached to their dead, ”said Chery. “Culturally, even with cholera or COVID-19, people want their relatives to be buried in a beautiful grave.” But due to the mutilated condition of many earthquake victims, many were buried immediately.

This attitude is evident in the funeral home Marc Dor Lebrun, which he describes as the cleanest and best equipped funeral home in town. Here, grieving families can rent a 10-meter Humvee limousine to carry the funeral procession.

Stainless steel refrigerators line a room and an air-conditioned prep room is nearby. But with the bodies of 17 earthquake victims and 22 others already filling his facilities, Lebrun says he can no longer stand it.

“Because we’re honest. We tell people we won’t get any more bodies, ”Lebrun said. “I don’t know the others,” he said, referring to less well-equipped houses.

“We have three bodies that were so badly destroyed that we put them in zippered body bags and gave them to relatives and buried them alone,” Lebrun said.

For the rest – families who can’t pay the funeral expenses – Lebrun said he won’t turn them down or set a fixed price. “That is the situation,” he said, referring to Haiti’s abject poverty. “If a family can’t pay, we help them.”

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