HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands.
Thursday afternoon UPDATE: Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson said police yesterday recovered another body from the hurricane affected area in Abaco, raising the number of fatalities to 52.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
OFFICIALS have now completed autopsies on 42 Hurricane Dorian victims, allowing some families to begin the process toward closure, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday.
While there are efforts to complete this aspect of handling Dorian victims, the official death toll remained at 51 yesterday, with Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson confirming there had been no additional recovery.
According to Dr Sands, 39 autopsies have been done in Abaco and three were completed in New Providence. The latter three died in Nassau after being transferred from Abaco for medical help.
The health minister was unable to speak to completed autopsies in Grand Bahama, telling The Tribune he had yet to receive those numbers.
This is the latest development since Tuesday, when Dr Sands revealed that 25 autopsies were done.
"As far as identifications go, I don't know how many people have been able to identify loved ones, but some of the remains have for sure been identified and some persons would have had remains turned over to an undertaker for burial," he told The Tribune yesterday.
Earlier this week 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 that 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," Dr Sands said on Tuesday.
"…If those remains are not able to be identified then certainly they would have to be retained for a certain amount of time.
"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.
"...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."