Searching for the dead brings agony in Ecuador's Guayaquil

Authorities in Guayaquil struggle to bury the dead from coronavirus, amid surge in total deaths reported this month.

    Darwin Castillo's father died in Guayaquil during the coronavirus pandemic that caused the Ecuadoran city's health system to collapse.

    But when Castillo went to the overwhelmed morgue to recover his father's remains, he was given the wrong body.

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    Two weeks have passed and he still has not found his father's body.

    Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, is the capital of Guayas province and has recorded roughly 70 percent of the country's more than 9,000 coronavirus cases.

    Castillo, 31, who works in a factory making plastic products, ended up returning a coffin he purchased.

    "I don't blame the hospital or the morgue. There were people dying at the entrance," he told the AFP news agency. "I would like my dad to appear so I can give him a Christian burial, to give a bouquet of roses to my old man."

    Guayaquil
    Castillo lost his father amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Guayaquil, where 70 percent of the country's cases have emerged [Jose Sanchez/AFP]

    Manuel, Castillo's 76-year-old father, was a dialysis patient. He died on March 31 due to a catheter obstruction.

    Castillo went to the Los Ceibos hospital two days later to recover the body. When he reached the morgue, he found it was filled with corpses. He paid an employee $150 to recover his father's body from the 170 that were piled up.

    When he was given the wrong body, the morgue suggested he search among the bodies, including the COVID-19 victims.

    "If there hadn't have been this problem, I would have searched from dead to dead for my dad, but I would have been exposing myself [to the virus]," he said. So he refused.

    'Not enough testing' 

    The chaos in hospitals and funeral parlours, in addition to the government lockdown, means many bodies remain in homes for days before being collected.

    The government, which over the last few days has collected 1,400 bodies from homes and hospitals in Guayaquil, uses a website to notify individuals of corpses' burial plots. 

    Almost 6,700 have died this month, according to the government, but most of those who died were not tested for the novel coronavirus.

    Deaths from COVID-19 stand at 456, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University.

    Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo, reporting from Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, said: "Experts in the region believe that figures in Latin America may not be realistic because there is not enough testing."

    "Accessing testing kits is a major challenge for most governments in the region. More data will allow countries in Latin America to adapt to what is happening on the ground."

    COVID-19: Ecuador struggles to bury the dead as bodies pile up

    In Ecuador's Guayaquil, two cemeteries have been expanded for the dead.

    Although Castillo entered his father's details, his name did not appear on the website.

    Some people are blaming the government for the chaos.

    "The family has the right to know where their dead relative is. The families are saying that the dead arrive with changed identities or men arrive when they're women," lawyer Hector Vanegas told AFP.

    Vanegas, who is representing a group of Guayaquil residents preparing a lawsuit against the government, is compiling a list of those affected by the confusion - and said he had already received 190 calls.

    Moises Valle, a 37-year-old pharmaceutical employee, also lost his father who died of a heart attack in Teodoro Maldonado Carbo hospital.

    When Valle filled out the forms to claim the body, he found it had been sent to another healthcare facility without his consent.

    "This day an ordeal began because I couldn't claim the body. Until yesterday my father's name hadn't appeared on the website," Valle told AFP.

    He had acquired a plot in the neighbouring town of Duran and was prepared for the burial, but had to cancel the service.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies