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Coronavirus Toll: NYC's Cremation Backlog Blamed For Overwhelmed Funeral Homes, Dozens Of Found Corpses

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Mayor Bill de Blasio says the treatment of bodies at a Brooklyn funeral home is "unconscionable."

Several dozen deceased were found in unrefrigerated rental trucks, and now reports say a backlog for cremation services may be partly to blame, reports CBS2's Tony Aiello.

The crematory behind Woolworth Chapel at Woodlawn in the Bronx is just five miles from Pelham Funeral Home, but director Clive Anderson is not using Woodlawn. He's sending deceased to Connecticut for cremation.

"We're very fortunate that we've been able to find a crematorium out of state," said Anderson. "That way we're not waiting four to six weeks to have a cremation done. We can do it within a few days, which means that we don't have to store people here at the funeral home."

The massive backlog at the city's four cremation facilities is reportedly a factor behind the shocking scene at Cleckley Funeral Home in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn.

Dozens of decomposing bodies improperly stored in unrefrigerated rental trucks were discovered there on Wednesday.

Operator Andrew Cleckley could face fines from the state in addition to scorn from the mayor.


"Why on Earth did they not either alert the state who regulate them or go to their NYPD Precinct and ask for help," said de Blasio. "Do something rather than leave the bodies there. It's unconscionable to me."

It's also been outrageous to families of the deceased.

"I expected to lay my mother down properly and with respect and at a reasonable time," said Tamisha Covington, daughter of a woman who was to receive full funeral services from Cleckley.

Dominic Carella has 32 years in the industry and says the pandemic's wave of death threatens to overwhelm small operations such as the one in Brooklyn.

"A few individuals that are just accepting calls that they can't handle and they're not reaching out to help," he said. "It's not fair to the families that they're servicing."

Working at capacity, the city's cremation facilities are booked into June. Between early February and mid-April, 15,000 more people died in New York City compared to the same period last year.

In regards to the incident in Brooklyn, the New York State Department of Health issued the following statement: "An investigation by order of the State Health Commissioner has been initiated to immediately address reports of these unacceptable conditions to ensure public health and restore dignity to the decedents. Funeral homes and morgues must be accountable for their actions or lack thereof, and we will do everything under our authority to protect health and safety."

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