MOCOA, Colombia – Desperation reigned this Tuesday at the Normandia Cemetery Park in Mocoa, where scores of people waited impatiently to receive the bodies of their loved ones who were killed in the recent mudslides and who are now in an advanced state of decay.
The mourners stood waiting beside a stack of small white coffins labeled “Children.”
The scene could not have been more Dantesque, with the bodies of the 279 mortal victims exposed to the tropical sun, many decomposed out of all recognition even to family members, but they cannot be taken away for burial until the Colombian Legal Medicine Institute and the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI) of the Attorney General’s Office complete the required procedures.
“I’ve been waiting for my poor wife and grandson since Saturday at 8 am and they haven’t been given us yet. They say they have to do a lot of paperwork. We want them now, we’ve got everything ready for their funerals,” Jose Salomon Muñoz told EFE.
He said his wife and grandson were in the San Miguel neighborhood that was devastated last Friday night when a rainstorm caused the Mocoa, Sangoyaco and Mulatos Rivers to overflow and wipe out part of this Colombian city, capital of the southern province of Putumayo.
“We found my wife hugging the little boy in Puerto Limon. Imagine that, swept away from San Miguel to Puerto Limon,” he said. That would be a distance of some 30 kilometers (18 miles).
Another mourner, Jose Buesaquillo, was looking for his sister Gladys del Socorro Buesaquillo and his brother-in-law Laureano Bolivar Cojoa. Both, he believes, were “swept away by the mudslide, and up to now we have no idea where they are and we’re waiting for news.”
“The trouble is we need more people, more officials from the CIT and the Attorney General’s Office, they’ve got to come here no matter where they are, but they have to come now because there are many bodies lying in the sun and they’re going to decay and then how are we going to recognize them?” he said
Legal Medicine Institute Director Carlos Eduardo Valdes said on Monday that his unit “has to do a complete job of identifying the bodies,” which totaled 279, of whom 144 were minors.
“Therefore I beg the citizens of Mocoa who survived this disaster to understand that we can’t give over the bodies for family members to identify, because the bodies are battered, with many injuries... and attempts at physical recognition are not trustworthy,” he said.
In a catastrophe like this, those able to bury their loved ones are feeling almost fortunate, though because of the hurry, many graves lack any identification of who has been laid to rest there, just flowers that have already begun to wither.
On some graves the mourners have placed colorful balloons to indicate that here lies a boy like many who have not yet been identified and for whom a stack of small white coffins awaits.