An inglorious humiliating end

On Friday past, after a delay of almost eight months, 55 unidentified bodies of victims of Hurricane Dorian were released from a refrigerated trailer and laid to rest in Abaco.

Only six other bodies recovered in Abaco were identified and released to families for burial, including one Canadian national, whose remains were repatriated.

The bodies of 11 individuals recovered in Grand Bahama following the storm were released to family members for burial. The remains of four additional individuals in Grand Bahama remain to be identified.

There is a widely held belief that hundreds, overwhelmingly from Abaco, remain missing and unaccounted for. Forensic offices claim to have taken just 21 DNA samples from relatives reporting missing relatives.

Shockingly and shamelessly, authorities admitted on Sunday that as original samples taken from the remains were inadequately tested, new samples were taken as recently as March. And now, family members, after eight months, are being requested to submit new DNA samples for comparative purposes.

Mercifully, those presiding over the ecumenical funeral service made a commendable effort to bring dignity to a most unhappy occasion, including representation from all Christian traditions and pastors from the Haitian immigrant churches.

The human remains were placed in 55 separate coffins which were interred in separate adjourning graves.

There were at least two unfortunate incidents during the lowering of two of the coffins into the ground which caused great distress to eyewitnesses.

Live broadcast of the service was not aired on either the publicly owned television or radio stations of The Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.

The ceremony was carried live on Cable Bahamas television station accompanied by commentary by two television journalists located at their Nassau studio.

Scores of Abaco residents, not accommodated at the funeral service, stood at quite a distance from the graves along the roadside. Several complained that they could not hear the service. Some voiced their grief, others their anger and, still, others their despair at the failure of those in charge to bring a satisfactory conclusion to one of the most devastating tragedies to beset The Bahamas in its modern history.

The prime minister, who is also minister of health, was not present at the service.

A day later, the member of Parliament for South Abaco wrote to the prime minister, in whose office he serves as parliamentary secretary, seeking an investigation into the inordinate delay being experienced in informing his constituents of the location and fate of their missing relatives.

What steps he may have sought to take in this regard during his present hurricane shelter in New Providence is unknown.

The prime minister, who took responsibility for the unidentified hurricane fatalities from the Ministry of Health some four weeks after the storm, has remained mostly quiet on the matter.

He created a new ministry for disaster preparedness, emergency management and response within the Office of the Prime Minister. And, he appointed two additional individuals with direct responsibility for the coordination of hurricane recovery and later appointed another individual to lead the government’s home reconstruction initiative.

Then, he created a Reconstruction Authority, akin to a public corporation, for which he also holds ministerial responsibility. Still the bodies remained unidentified in the refrigerated trailer behind the hospital in Central Abaco for eight months.

Speaking with international news reporters weeks after the storm, the prime minister claimed a department other than his own was responsible for accounting for the missing.

The police, whom the Bahamian public were told were the authoritative source for information on the missing, stopped providing information on the hurricane’s missing many months ago now.

Friday’s memorial service was all in all an inglorious end for the unidentified souls whose bodies had been trapped in a refrigerated trailer for eight months.

Friday also served as a humiliating example of the government failure of leadership so urgently needed before, during and following the Dorian national emergency.

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