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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The bodies of hundreds of people who died from COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic remain unclaimed by their families.
The city’s morgue could not hold them all.
About 650 bodies lie inside freezer trailers on Pier 39 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn – a backlog of lives taken away by the coronavirus as it spread rapidly in the spring, CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported Monday.
The city is cautiously bracing for a second wave.
“We haven’t seen some of those particular warning signs yet,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Thank god, but we are very, very vigilant. But, we’ll make sure medical examiner is ready either way.”
The medical examiner’s office has a task force assigned to identify bodies and another team to track down next of kin. However, they’re struggling to find the families of some 230 people.
Relatives of others have been found, but can’t afford a proper burial yet.
“We’re trying to work with each and every family of those we lost during that situation, to make sure that they can have the kind of services they want to have at the right time,” de Blasio said.
CBS2 received the following statement from Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson:
“Supporting families and helping facilitate respectful final arrangements for individuals who passed at the height of the pandemic reflects the core mission of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
As we continue to utilize medical, scientific, and forensic expertise to help answer vital questions around the effects of illness, we recognize that this ongoing work has served as a nationwide example in part because of the hard work and dedication of our family outreach staff in helping families navigate these unprecedented circumstances.”
Joe Aievoli, whose family owns six funeral homes, said no one, including himself, was prepared for the COVID-19 death toll.
“I rented several refrigerated trailers,” Aievoli said. “Even though we had someone in our custody, it would sometimes take three or four weeks before we can have availability at a cemetery or a crematory.”
Aievoli said most funeral homes were able to catch up by the end of June. He feels for the city, which is still trying to find families and help them make arrangements for loved ones.
“Don’t want to inter someone without exhausting all the avenues of trying to find next of kins and, who knows, there can be next of kins that also fell victim to the pandemic,” he said.
Aievoli said he tries his best to help families find the most affordable way to respectfully lay their loves ones to rest.
Families can choose a free burial on Hart Island.
The medical examiner’s office said it will continue operating the storage facility in Brooklyn at least until the pandemic is declared over.
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