A Brooklyn funeral home resorted to storing 50 corpses in four rented trucks after its facility was overwhelmed with bodies, New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker confirmed on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
The police were called to the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home on Wednesday after neighbors complained about a bad smell coming from the trucks.
According to The New York Times, the police found several dozen decomposing bodies inside a U-Haul rental and what “seemed to be a tractor-trailer.” The AP added that a neighboring business called 911 over leaking fluids from one of the trucks.
The New York State Department of Health issued the funeral home two summons, according to The Times.
According to the AP, Zucker told all funeral homes that “any of that kind of behavior” would not be tolerated.
The Times reported that the owner, Andrew Cleckley, said he was “overwhelmed by the relentless tide of bodies during the pandemic.” He added that his chapel was filled with more than 100 bodies and he “used the trucks for overflow storage.”
“I ran out of space,” he told The Times. “Bodies are coming out of our ears.”
He also told The Times he was unable to buy a refrigerated trailer because of shortages.
The health agency is investigating the funeral home, which could have its license suspended. Additionally, a spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office told The Times it was also investigating the incident.
“I have no idea in the world how any funeral home could let this happen,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said, according to the AP, adding that the funeral home could have asked state regulators or the city police for help.
De Blasio called the incident “absolutely unacceptable.”
“They have an obligation to the people they serve to treat them with dignity,” he said of funeral homes, according to The Times.
The Times said it was unclear what penalties Cleckley might face.
Mike Lanotte, a spokesman for the New York State Funeral Directors Association, told the AP that funeral-home employees had raised concerns about storage but that he hadn’t heard anything as extreme as what happened in this funeral home.
Funeral directors across the country have said they’re overwhelmed by the pandemic and don’t have the infrastructure to handle the number of bodies they’re getting.
Pat Marmo told the AP that his funeral home in New York City was struggling to keep up with the increase of bodies and that he was pleading with families to insist they have hospitals hold on to their dead loved ones for as long as possible.
“This is a state of emergency,” Marmo told the AP. “We need help.”
There have been close to 64,000 recorded COVID-19 deaths in the US and almost 24,000 in New York state alone.
Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your story.