Advocates Claim Mass Graves Pose Risk, But Officials Dispute Recent Problems

NEW YORK (CBS New York) — There have been more than a million people buried in the mass graves on Hart Island since 1860s, but since the damage of Hurricane Sandy, that’s become a gruesome problem.

“My baby was buried right near the water,” Dr. Laurie Grant from the Hart Island Project told CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge. “The babies are buried in small coffins, so there’s about five on top of each other.”

Grant’s child was stillborn in 1993, and her daughter is one of more than a million people laid to rest in the country’s largest cemetery. It takes months to schedule a visit there — Grant’s last trip was in 2013, a year after Sandy tore up the seawall, leaving human remains littered along the shoreline.

Advocates say it will only get worse, but city officials disagree on the scope of the problem.

“The cliffs of Hart Island are sort of exposed and bones are washing up on Long Island Sound – that hasn’t been repaired yet,” said Melinda Hunt, the founding director of the Hart Island Project which identified more than 67,000 people buried there.

“This happened once in 2012, after one of the biggest hurricanes hit New York City and it has not happened since,” said Peter Thorne, deputy commissioner of public information for the New York City Department of Correction.

Most of the problem is reportedly in the northern shore of Hart Island where there is a steep bank heavily damaged by the 2012 storm.

“If you are in Orchard Beach, which has lots and lots of New Yorkers, it’s what you are looking at directly,” said Hunt. “That’s where are bones are washing up into the sound.”

“The exposed remains were in one of the oldest burial sections of the island, and they were quickly reburied in a different part of the island that was not affected by the storm,” said Thorne.

Hunt’s care for the island, its dead and their surviving families led her to create a database for tracking the names of the dead on the island almost 30 years ago. She and some local officials want the city Parks Department to take over maintenance of the island, which is run by the Department of Correction. They currently use inmates from Rikers Island to bury the dead, but advocates say the deceased deserve better.

“People buried on Hard Island are from the poorest, the sickest and the most neglected and almost forgotten members of our society and it’s an indignity that having suffered in life now they’re suffering in death,” Councilman Mark Levine (D-7th) said.

The Medical Examiner’s Office is in charge of collecting the remains so they can be reinterred, something that provides a small sense of comfort to relatives.

“I would like it to be kept up I would like it to be a place where when people visit it’s not depressing,” Dr. Grant said.

Officials say FEMA gave the city $13.2 million in 2015 to use towards repairs. A design firm was hired in 2016 and bid for contractors are in progress. Work is expected to begin in 2020 and take about a year and a half to complete.

Advocates are also pushing to make Hart Island a park, so it’s more accessible to visitors.

 

Comments (20)
  1. What if people spread their ashes there…would this make a difference? They’re just bones…when you’re dead…you’re dead.

  2. FTA: Officials say FEMA gave the city $13 million in 2015 to use towards repairs, and they haven’t acted on it yet. The city says they’re in the planning stages, and will begin reconstruction in 2020.

    Someone wanna explain that to me?

    1. Willam Nat says:

      City won’t spend the 13 million? I say when de Blasio passes on he should be buried there. Then his relatives can chase down his bones.

  3. I guess the cats out of the bag now, the whole world is now aware that the caring people of the big city, New York, treat the deadlike they treat the living , like crap, especially if you are not rich or a big timne political person [then you are just well off not rich]. The very fact they admitt to stacking the dead like so much wood or like the nazis did the jews sorta says it all. So much of any thought s of a caring human side to the New York area.

  4. Remember the bureaucratic geniuses of NYC who spent 6 years trying to fix Wollman ice skating rink, spent millions and got nowhere. Then Donald Trump offered to fix it up and got it up and running in 4 months. Well, the same kind of bureaucratic “genius” that couldn’t fix the Wollman rink after 6 years is now taking years to plan the reconstruction of Hart Island. Who knows how many years they will take to reconstruct it?

  5. A doctor has her child buried in a pauper’s grave? Ahhh.. a mother’s love…!

  6. How can it take 2 years to even plan to begin a repair? This is the type of incompetence that allowed Trump to be a hero finishing a silly skating rink and be a hero.

    New York you have the government you deserve.

  7. They should reprocess the graves into mulch. They should also consider mass burials of the remains at sea, with all the pomp and ceremony, and make a large plaque. Alternately they can create an ossarium

  8. Kerwin Hieb says:

    Gave NY 13 million??? You can kiss that money goodbye because you just KNOW it got directed right into somebody’s pocket.

  9. A more likely explanation is they are bones from the mass graves at the Clinton estate upstate

  10. The folks that have to be buried here should be cremated. Burying people is a waste of good real estate. No matter your income.

  11. Bet they spent that $13 million already. Wonder what will happen in 2020 when they start repairs. Think anyone will question where the money went or care?

  12. Typical bureaucratic bungling and delays. Form committees to determine what must be done, then subcommittees to set priorities, the more subcommittees to determine how many more subcommittees are needed, then more committees to decide the qualifications needed for employees who might do the work. Then a department to administer the hiring, another to set pay rates, another to determine budgets, another to decide whose in-laws and relatives to hire.

    And by the time anyone gets around to actually doing something, there’s no money left.

    Give it to the private sector on day one. Set deadlines and penalties for missing, them; then maybe some bonuses for early completion.

    And that, folks, is how the private sector gets things done, on time and on budget. I’ve managed a number of projects this way and it has always worked.

  13. tngilmer says:

    And yet the sheeple in NY will continue to vote Democrat. SMH

  14. Bill Cassidy says:

    “People buried on Hard Island are from the poorest, the sickest and the most neglected and almost forgotten members of our society and it’s an indignity that having suffered in life now they’re suffering in death”

    Oh please. The dead can’t suffer in death. THEY’RE DEAD, STUPID.

  15. Pete Wagner says:

    Nature is the repairs.

  16. “Officials say FEMA gave the city $13 million in 2015 to use towards repairs, and they haven’t acted on it yet. The city says they’re in the planning stages, and will begin reconstruction in 2020.” … and when they eventually get around to the actual construction … we need more $$$$$$$ bureaucracies!!!! Now if it were in private hands it would have been finished by now.
    Well Bill DeBlasio a loony

    Democrat is governor ………. any more questions??

  17. “Grind them up, spread them out.”
    ~ MotherEarF

  18. Since 1980 ? WTF ? Do your homework, the cemetery has been open since the 1800s.
    Sheesh !!

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