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Jul 27, 1998

Too many bodies, too much time, cause trouble at old morgue

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If you’ve been following the news lately you’ve noticed that, through crimes, accidents, natural causes and even a few unsolved mysteries, there has been no shortage of dead bodies in Belize. Those sheer numbers and a less than efficient system of dealing with them, have led to some problems… as I found out the hard way this morning.

Residents living in the area of Mortuary Lane, just off from Eve Street on the northside of Belize City have been complaining about a strong foul odor that’s been plaguing the area for over a week. The oppressive stench, which has been coming from the old city morgue, has left residents mentally upset and physically ill.

Julia Weston, Resident

“Well right now my little niece and I feeling it for four days now,… very, very bad. I getting very sick and about probably four days to right now too, my husband get up from three in the morning and he say he had to get up and spray some air freshener in the house and we can’t sleep after that. We get up and we just can’t take it Jackie, just can’t.”

Gina Fonseca, Resident

“I have heard that some people have been ill to the stomach. A baby and two gentlemen who live around here have complained about feeling ill, nauseated and that sort of thing. But for the most part we have tried to control it. People go to work, so they are not constantly exposed to it but it is very pungent.”

The stench apparently is being caused by six dead bodies. Some of the corpses, all in an advanced state of decomposition, have been left in the morgue several weeks now. Four of the dead are the remains of the victims from the July eight plane crash in Ladyville, while the fifth corpse is that of an unidentified man found floating one week ago in the Sibun River. According to Doctor Mario Estradabran, the Police Pathologist, the reason why the bodies of the plane crash victims remained in the morgue for so long is because the postmortem examination took some days to complete.

Dr. Mario Estradabran, Pathologist

“We were doing a special investigation dealing with the identity of the victims. The society believes that when you have a total burn, charred bodies, it’s easy for you just to write a certificate and say okay, they died by total body burns, but it is not just that. You have to deal with identities of the victims.”

Delays were also caused by the investigation done into the crash by the Federal Aviation Authority and an independent investigator from the United States. Estradabran says he officially released the bodies on Saturday, July twenty fifth and from then it was the responsibility of the undertaker, Coye’s Funeral Parlor to prepare the remains to be flown back to the United States. Estradabran says that although the morgue is a refrigerated unit, he believes the problem is one of building maintenance. A problem he admits that if not immediately attended to, it can pose a health risk for those in the immediate area.

Dr. Mario Estradabran

“Well, I guess it is very unhealthy. It’s very, very unhealthy.”

Q: “So someone can get sick?”

Dr. Mario Estradabran

“Yes, somebody could get sick, especially the children that like to play in the area, like to play in the area or people who normally like to go and take a shower nearby.”

Q: “And people of course living in their homes nearby?”

Dr. Mario Estradabran

“Through flies, through “koncas,” through flies travelling around the area, yes.”

Julia Weston

“Since eight days up to now, we are suffering too much from this terrible scent. You know, from in the morning, when we come to take our breakfast and our stomach upset. From three in the morning you can get up and smell this. That, we can’t stand it. How can these people not do anything about it? How people can bring all of them dead people in this area where the breeze catch whole day and night.”

It’s a question as well Doctor Michael Pitts, the Director of Health Services, says he would like an answer to. While Dr. Pitts would not appear on camera, he along with a representative from the Public Health Department, told us that the decomposed bodies should have never come to the morgue in the first place, but instead should have been buried on site. Pitts says although the morgue is antiquated, it can still house dead bodies. The problem he says is not lack of maintenance, but rather the length of time the bodies have been left – a problem caused by the police, pathologist and undertaker.

Pitts says it was not until this morning that he was informed about the situation and has ordered Coye’s Funeral Parlor to have the bodies sealed in a metal box and flown back to the United States tomorrow. The other two remaining bodies were expected have been buried by this evening. In addition, according to Pitts, the entire area will also be disinfected.

Viewers should note that the morgue at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, which deals with deaths occurring at that facility, is working fine. The building at the old Belize City Hospital on Mortuary Lane is used by police for their forensic cases.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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