GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador – The crisis surrounding the disposal of corpses in Ecuador’s Guayaquil city continued on Saturday despite authorities’ efforts to collect them, amid disconsolate families still staring at uncertainty.
Days after moving social media images of dead bodies lying on sidewalks and houses grabbed headlines and desperate family members denounced the authorities for failing to take them away, the government and local authorities have coordinated a joint response in the last two days. However, they have been unable to manage the full extent of the crisis.
On Saturday, another corpse was left on a piece of furniture on a street in the northern Sauces 8 district with the message: “We have called 911 and there was no help.”
After midday, a team of officers from the Guayaquil metropolitan authorities – who are collecting the bodies along with a special task force of the federal government – picked up another corpse in the Sauces 5 district and transported it to the Jardines de la Esperanza cemetery.
The victim had been dead for more than a day, and the authorities failed to show up until being alerted by neighbors that his mother, an elderly women, was living in the same house.
According to a statement by the city council, this body had now been placed in a coffin.
Meanwhile, dozens of people gathered outside Guayaquil’s Parques de la Paz graveyard on Saturday morning to demand their family members’ last remains in order to bury them.
“They had promised to give as an official list of all the bodies they have today, because there are more than 10 unrecognized corpses which the Legal Medicine (forensics) department is going to identify by some means, by fingerprints,” Jorge Diaz, waiting outside the cemetery’s gates to know if his father’s name figured in one of the lists, told EFE.
The bodies belong to people who died in hospitals and houses, both due to COVID-19 and other causes, before being collected by authorities this week.
“A list has been issued by the Los Ceibos hospital, I don’t know if it was official or a rough one, but my dad’s name did not figure on it,” a visibly uncertain Diaz said.
Around 30-odd people were also waiting outside the facility where authorities brought the corpses they had just collected.
Until Sunday, the graveyard is set to bury the remains of the victims whose families lack the resources to do so privately, and the registration process has been complicated as bodies arrive from hospitals struggling to cope with the high workload.
“The hospitals are supposed to wait until we bring the death certificate in order to carry the remains to the cemetery, but in my case, and for the majority of the people who are here, this didn’t happen,” said Luis Choez, breaking into tears.
Choez was distraught about the whereabouts of the corpse of his brother, which was carried away on Friday night. Next to him, Ginger Estrada, looking for the remains of her husband, nodded in agreement.
Late on Saturday, the Guayaquil City Council announced that they had arranged thousands of coffins made of corrugated cardboard to facilitate the burial of victims.
“We thank the Association of Cardboard Manufactures for the delivery of the first 200 pieces of the 2,000 coffins made of pressed cardboard,” the council tweeted.
The coffins would be used at both the Jardines de Esperanza and Parques de Paz cemeteries, and also handed to the national police – which is in-charge of collecting corpses – if necessary.
Earlier this week, the council had arranged for refrigerated containers to store the mortal remains, as bodies piled up in the morgues with the new coronavirus wreaking havoc in the city, even as the country remained under a 15-hour curfew every day to prevent new infections.
Vice President Otto Sonnenholzer acknowledged on Saturday that Ecuador’s image had taken a hit internationally over what was happening in Guayaquil and announced fresh measures to tackle the epidemic.
“We have seen images that should never have happened. Therefore, as your public servant, I apologize,” he said in an address to the nation.
He said that the Guayas province, which has registered the highest 2,402 cases including those in capital Guayaquil, will be provided with 1,500 hospital beds to attend to COVID-19 cases.
The nationwide death toll from the disease climbed to 172 on Saturday, while the total number of cases stood at 3,465, with the state of Pichincha – surrounding national capital Quito – being the second worst hit after Guaya.