Haiti Earthquake Victims Get Mass Grave Burial

Funeral rituals are tossed aside as mass graves replace traditional burials.

ByABC News
January 23, 2010, 7:14 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 23, 2010 — -- Seventy-five thousand bodies already fill more than a dozen trenches in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For survivors, the earthquake didn't just take their loved ones, it's taken their ability to properly mourn the dead.

"These are human beings and the way these trucks dump them..." one man working in the trenches full of bodies said wistfully.

Since the earthquake struck, Haiti's government has told its people to leave dead bodies out in the open. Trucks have come by picking up the bodies several times a day, delivering them to mass graves.

The Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are protesting the mass graves, saying that families can't claim their loved ones' bodies. They say that the dead bodies don't pose a health risk and that it prevents people from claiming bodies, according to the international relief organizations.

Haiti is a nation where funeral rites are extremely sacred but with priests gone and many people unable to identify and bury their family members, earthquake survivors worry about the spirits of the dead.

An estimated 80 percent of Haitians are Catholic, but more than half of Haitians also practice Voodoo. They believe there must be a death ritual to release a loved one's spirit to God. Without it, they believe the spirits are trapped.

"The Haitian people are wounded," said Max Beauvoir, Haiti's chief Voodoo priest. "They are not just wounded in their body alone, they are wounded in their spirit."

Haitians like to bury the dead quickly with celebratory memorials and in many cases elaborate tombs. A canzo, or Voodoo nurse, helps send the spirit off.

The help of a canzo is needed more than ever as the Haitian government officially ended its search and rescue mission today. Haitian authorities estimate that up to 200,000 people may have died in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

As more and more unclaimed bodies are taken in pick-up trucks to mass graves, canzos worry that the spirits aren't at rest.

"The spirits are not in peace and that is painful," one canzo said. "Where will they go? Where will their spirits go?"