Brazil digs large-scale graveyards ahead of anticipated epidemic peak

By Carlos Meneses Sánchez.

Sao Paulo, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- Ahead of an anticipated and dreaded peak of the national COVID-19 epidemic, Brazil has begun digging large-scale graveyards. In Sao Paulo’s Vila Formosa cemetery, the largest in Latin America, about 20 excavators dig against the clock.

In the space of a few days, the scene of workers digging painstakingly with shovels has changed to that of operators in masks and white overalls at the controls of heavy machinery.

The calm and silence of the Vila Formosa cemetery, where the remains of 1.5 million people are estimated to rest, is broken by the noise of the hydraulic excavators that on Friday started to dig around 1,200 new graves.

For this they have released a new lot of land “as a precaution,” one of the gravediggers of the municipal funeral service told EFE.

The city of Sao Paulo, with some 12 million inhabitants, has been hardest hit in the country by the coronavirus crisis, with 643 deaths and almost 9,000 cases since Feb. 26 when the first was registered in the country.

The public health system is approaching its limit with several city hospitals close to having all their intensive care beds occupied.

The so-called “curve” has begun to accelerate in recent weeks, with the peak of the pandemic in the country expected in May or June, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

Across the country, COVID-19 deaths are nearing 2,500 and cases approaching 40,000.

“We are going to eat. The time is upon us,” the foreman said on Saturday to the team of gravediggers surrounded by the excavators hired ad hoc by a company that provides services to the mayor of Sao Paulo.

They started first thing in the morning and were scheduled to continue until 10 pm.

About 20 machines were operating, but on Monday another 15 are expected to arrive to speed up the work, said Cléber Siebra, owner of Cat Terraplenagem, the company that supplied the excavators.

“We have worked in cemeteries before, but this is the first time with this volume,” he told EFE.

One of the operators of the excavators is Luciano Nascimento, 40, who has spent 12 years working in another cemetery in the city.

“(it is) more difficult these days – more burials, more people,” he said.

“You have to take care of yourself because the situation is serious. You can see that there are many machines working, many graves being opened because of the pandemic. Whoever is at home should stay at home,” he added.

The process is long, laborious and exhausting. First, an excavator levels out the ground, then is positioned to dig the graves one by one, in meticulous rows, with just centimeters separating each.

They dig two or three times, removing piles of reddish earth, which they drop to the side. When one is finished, they start on the next and so on until the scene appears more typical of a war – there are dozens of open graves with piles of earth at the foot of them.

Meters away, in other lots, families wearing masks bury their deceased loved ones.

Work on the graves will continue for some days because, according to Cléber Siebra, the contract to use the excavators in Vila Formosa is “for an indefinite period.”

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