The corpses arrive wrapped in sheets and plastic, blackened and often missing extremities.
SONIA PEREZ D.
INTERNATIONAL.- Forensic experts worked Friday on the grim task of identifying dozens of bodies charred beyond recognition by the eruption of Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire, a disaster that has left at least 110 confirmed dead and nearly 200 still missing.
Even as search and recovery efforts were suspended for a second day amid dangerous new volcanic flows and dwindling hopes of finding survivors, about 15 forensic experts worked at a makeshift morgue in a warehouse in the southern city of Escuintla.
The corpses arrive wrapped in sheets and plastic, blackened and often missing extremities, filling the cavernous, metal-roofed warehouse with the unmistakable stench of death. Some still had hair; others did not.
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First, the experts check for anything that could help identify the bodies, such as clothing that hasn’t been burned off by flows said to have reached temperatures as high as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 C). Later, they will take genetic material from the bones — the only option available — and compare it to blood drawn from people with missing relatives.
The bones can also yield information to help determine age and gender. “We are extracting the samples from bones to do DNA tests,” forensic expert Miguel Morales told The Associated Press, which was allowed access to the morgue to witness the work. “The tissues are in very bad shape.” Morales said the bodies were essentially mummified, cooked by the extreme heat.
On one table lay the body of someone frozen statuelike in death, the stomach distended and a hand jutting stiffly outward. A woman took notes, and another worker took photographs. Dozens more bodies were shrouded in white plastic on wooden pallets, and workers used fans and dry ice to cool the space. In all, there were about 40 corpses.
At one end of the cinderblock warehouse, dozens of coffins lay waiting to receive identified bodies that would be handed over to relatives and quickly buried as mandated by health authorities.
National Institute of Forensic Sciences director Fanuel Garcia Morales said the process can take several days and workers are trying to get the dead to their families as quickly as possible. “The (bodies) are essentially petrified. It’s really a question of that in touching and extracting them, they can fall apart easily”, Garcia said.