Lafitte, Louisiana – Hurricane Aida hit Louisiana with a strong wind blowing off the roof of the building and a storm surge strong enough to displace the house. What this brought to their livelihoods also brought to the dead, moving vaults and coffins, and adding another layer of trauma to families and communities recovering from a powerful storm.
“We hope the burial of loved ones will be a permanent resting place,” said Rev. Haywood Johnson, Jr., who lives in a small community in Ironton, south of New Orleans, along the Mississippi River. He lived in the community and pushed a heavy chest, including Johnson’s mother and other relatives, out of the rest area across the street.
“Some of these graves weigh a few tons, and the water came to destroy them like a cardboard box. It was the power of water, ”he said.
Locations in Louisiana, in hurricane-prone areas, are common problems with strong hurricanes and other consequences of flooding, coupled with cultural burial practices that often rest the dead on the ground.
Ryan Saidemann chairs the State Cemeteries Task Force, which was formed after the 2016 Baton Rouge floods and widespread problems in cemeteries in the flooded area. Members of the task force will begin investigating the cemetery as soon as possible after the storm and assess the damage.
In some cases, flooding from storm surges and heavy rains can spread so far that it is not immediately clear where the safe is buried. Often made up of thousands of pounds of concrete or burnt block, the arch contains air pockets inside and the concrete itself can actually be more buoyant than people realize. said Seidemann.
“They float. They tend to go wherever the water goes. They picked them up in the garden, on the embankment, under the stairwell, ”he said. Of the. “
And recovery is only the first step. The team must then identify the remains and often work with family members to help with reimbursement costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Despite efforts to recover after Aida, the task force said last year it was dealing with damage from a hurricane that sent debris to coastal wetlands, Saideman said.
Staying evacuated from a hurricane is like “opening an old wound” for the family, Seidemann said: “They will have to go through the whole process of grief again”. ..
It’s also annoying for those who have trouble rebuilding their homes or businesses when they come across arches or coffins in their gardens or roads, but Seidemann says people are generally patient and return their remains to shut down their homes. families. I just wanted.
Thomas Harco lives along the Bayou Barataria, which intersects with Goose Bayou in southeast Louisiana. In the middle of his property is a small family cemetery, often referred to as Lafitte cemetery or Perrin family cemetery.
After the hurricane, Haruko found a thick layer of mud washed away on the ground, one of his houses pushed back a four-foot-high pillar, and two heavy stone arches in the cemetery moved. low. I started to rest on the embankment that separates my property from Bayeux. Across the road was another chest that Haruko believed to be in the graveyard.
“It took a lot of hits,” Haruko said of the cemetery, and he leaned against an arch in the road and said, “This is just one example.”
Edward Perrin, like any other cemetery on a long ridge of land stretching towards the Gulf of Mexico, buries his loved ones there. He said at least one chest needed to be removed and retrieved after Rita. The 87-year-old thought he might have wanted to rest in a family cemetery in Goosebayu, but the turmoil at the grave reconsidered him.
“This whole water situation is causing problems in worship, burial and life,” he said.
Families sometimes tie up graves and use sandbags to hold them in place before a storm, said Irby Goings, a member of the retired funeral directors task force. When evacuating, it can be difficult to identify bodies, especially for people who have been deceased for a long time, who have little or no means to collect items such as dental records and DNA.
Some caskets have a small plastic tube, called a memory tube, screwed into the end where the burial room can hold identifying information. In some cases, they found their names at the foot of the coffin, or put embroidery on the fabric covering the person’s bottom, he said.
In many cases, the family can provide important identifying details. He recalled a case in which his grandson identified the remains of a woman with marbles in a coffin in honor of her love for the game.
In some cases, all options are exhausted. After the 2016 floods, a small number of unidentified people were buried in Plainview Cemetery in Denham Springs. And sometimes, despite a thorough search, the coffin disappears and is never found.
Seidemann estimated that it could take up to two years to resettle all of the bodies exiled by Ida. That’s the weather since the Baton Rouge area flooded in 2016.
The team is in Ironton and Lafitte, collecting vaults and coffins scattered in the water. Once identified, they will be reburied. At Ironton, Rev. Johnson said he wanted to hold a ceremony at that time to honor the dead.
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