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Why 530 Frozen Bodies Sit in a Brooklyn Warehouse

On April 28, the city opened the long-term freezer storage facility at the Brooklyn pier, which can hold at least 1,500 bodies. (The city declined to provide a precise capacity).

“That was a real game changer,” said Jenna Mandel-Ricci, the co-author of a Greater New York Hospital Association report on fatality management that documented lessons learned in the crisis. “I hope that we don’t need it, but knowing that it’s there, and knowing that it’s part of the framework that has been built, is incredibly comforting.”

At the peak of the crisis, federal disaster workers and the New York National Guard helped to process and store thousands of bodies at Disaster Morgue 4, as the marine terminal was named. By the end of May, the pier held a total of 2,137 bodies — 1,468 in long-term storage and 669 in refrigerated trailers, the medical examiner’s office said.

As of Dec. 4, the city’s facility at the marine terminal still held 529 bodies in long-term storage and 40 in refrigerated trailers. (The Wall Street Journal first reported that bodies were still being held at the facility.)

The city has not set a time limit on how long a body can remain there, as long as there are discussions underway with the family for a final resting place. The service is free, Dr. Sampson said.

She said that those held in long-term storage there in December were a mixture of Covid-19 and non-Covid fatalities, which have continued to arrive at the terminal since May. The site, she said, is alleviating the strain on her office’s regular morgues, which can hold 900 bodies, and also provides a central place for funeral directors to retrieve remains.

Burials at Hart Island have not stopped, however: This year, 2,225 adults have been buried in the city cemetery there, the most in decades, according to the city’s Department of Correction. Now, burials there take place either at family request or because the bodies remained unidentified or unclaimed after an investigation of roughly two months, the medical examiner said.

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