In a disturbing situation highlighting the horrendous toll of COVID-19, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending refrigerated trucks to New York City to hold the bodies of disease victims as morgues struggle to keep up.
The estimated 85 trucks will serve as interim mortuaries, parked on the streets outside hospitals. Some trucks are already in place, though it’s unclear if they have been provided by FEMA.
“We are sending refrigeration trucks to New York to help with some of the problem on a temporary basis,” FEMA’s regional director, an emotional Thomas Von Essen, said at a press briefing Monday in Manhattan with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. There is a “desperate need” for morgue space in Queens in particular, said Von Essen, a former New York City Fire Department commissioner who was in office during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (See the video above at 30:28.)
“We are going to have an awful lot of folks that aren’t going to make it,” Von Essen warned. It’s a “tough, tough battle we have in front of us.”
The Department of Defense Mortuary Affairs will also send 42 staff members to help in the Manhattan Medical Examiner’s Office.
Workers used forklifts to load bodies into a refrigerated truck at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene on Sunday. Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan was apparently the first to obtain refrigerated trailers to hold bodies last week.
ProPublica on Monday shared photos of bodies being loaded onto a refrigerated truck outside Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn, taken by a neighbor. “I shared the photos with the intention that the rest of the U.S. knows to take it seriously,” said Marc Kozlow. “This is what the country should be aware of.”
He told ProPublica: “We leave our windows open and we hear the hum of the refrigerator going all night long. It’s disturbing to know what’s in there.”
De Blasio warned of even more devastating news in the city’s future.
“I still fear the worse is not going to be April but actually the beginning of May,” said de Blasio. “I guarantee you that April is going to be exceedingly tough, and we have to understand that any projection of things being all OK by Easter — there’s just no way that’s true for New York City.”
But Trump on Sunday said he realized that wouldn’t be possible, given the continuing spread of COVID-19, and he extended social distancing guidelines to April 30.
As of Monday night, New York reported 38,000 cases of COVID-19 and 917 deaths.
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