Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
OF the 51 official casualties of deadly Hurricane Dorian, autopsies have been carried out on about 25 Abaco victims thus far, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands confirmed yesterday.
Dr Sands said the government’s intention is to treat each victim with dignity, adding there were no plans to conduct mass burials. He also said due to the nature of the storm, some of the victims’ bodies may never be recovered.
However, he was unable to state how long officials would continue to store unidentified remains, pointing to some instances where bodies have been held in the Rand Morgue at Princess Margaret Hospital for years.
Ultimately, he said the decision about whether bodies will be removed from cold storage and buried would be a collective one.
“We have to deal with (this) deliberately, methodically and legally,” he said.
“…If those remains are not able to be identified then certainly they would have to be retained for a certain amount of time,” Dr Sands said ahead of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.
“As we complete the process of going through the missing persons list, having persons try to identify their loved ones, samples for DNA have been taken from those autopsies (and) already completed. I’m advised that we’ve done at least 25 autopsies in Abaco already.
“At some point in time a determination will be made as to whether or not bodies would be removed from cold storage and probably buried, but that decision would be a collective decision made on the basis of the sum of the information available to everybody.”
Asked how long unidentified bodies would remain in storage, the Elizabeth MP said: “Again I don’t have a good answer for that. We currently have in the Princess Margaret Hospital morgue a number of bodies that have been there for more than many months and probably for several years.
“It really depends on the total number. There are a number of factors that would go into this. Bear in mind that every individual is indeed that, an individual human being with loved ones (and) family members who are seeking to get closure.
“So while in totality we have a number of deaths, already 51 officially, I believe each individual is a human being that has to be treated with dignity and the rights of their loved ones and their family would have to be preserved.”
On Monday, the official death toll increased to 51 after stalling at 50 for a week.
There have been 43 deaths in Abaco and eight in Grand Bahama, according to police.
Royal Bahamas Police Force Commissioner Anthony Ferguson said Monday that there had been no further significant increase because there was no recovery of bodies.
While maintaining that government is bracing for the death toll to increase, Dr Sands stressed that officials will do everything necessary not to defile unrecovered victims.
National Emergency Management Agency Director Captain Stephen Russell said Monday search and recovery teams had not yet reached the ground level of mounds of debris in areas like The Mudd.
“The idea that you would defile or damage the remains of a human being by using heavy equipment inappropriately and so on and so forth has to be taken into consideration. I remind the persons of the approach that took place at ground zero after the World Trade Centre catastrophe. It was a painstaking recovery process.
“What we are seeking to do is to complete this process by recognising the humanity and the lives lost,” Dr Sands said.
During a NEMA press conference on Monday, Capt Russell said recovery efforts could take months.