Death stalks French nursing home, where corpses lie in rooms

By Lucien Libert

PARIS (Reuters) – In a nursing home in Paris, bodies have been left decomposing in bedrooms and the smell of death seeps under doors after the coronavirus spread through the overwhelmed facility, according to a care worker there.

The employee at the Jardin des Plantes home, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject, told Reuters some 30 residents – about a third of all the elderly being cared for at the facility – had died since the outbreak struck.

With the city’s undertakers swamped by the wave of COVID-19 deaths sweeping the capital, some corpses had laid in body bags for several days, the care worker said.

“The smell passes under the doors and permeates through the walls,” the care worker said.

“Families would call in the morning, and we’d tell them things were fine. By the evening their relative would be dead and we wouldn’t even have had the time to inform them,” the care worker added, describing how staff had been overrun.

The nursing home is run by Paris City Hall. A spokesman confirmed that the number of deaths had risen above the 21 initially reported on April 7, but could not give a precise figure.

City Hall had been alerted that some corpses were festering inside bedrooms, the spokesman said. Immediate measures had been taken “to limit as far as possible this situation”, he added.

The nursing home declined to comment.

All of France’s care homes are locked down, their 1 million residents in isolation on government orders and cut off from their families.

From Italy to the United States, such homes have emerged as a vulnerable frontline in the global pandemic, with COVID-19 most lethal to the elderly.

PARTIAL DATA

In France, nursing homes do not have to relay data on COVID-19 deaths to the health authorities.

The country’s death count has surged after it began including numbers supplied voluntarily from homes last week, with a third of the 12,210 COVID-19 fatalities nationwide occurring in nursing homes.

A spokeswoman for the regional ARS health authority in the greater Paris area said Jardin des Plantes was among the 40% of France’s 7,400 homes that had not passed on the information.

The care worker said that the home’s 80 staff had lacked face masks, gloves, gowns and shoe covers when the coronavirus first hit. High levels of absenteeism left workers overstretched before reinforcements arrived, including student nurses.

The nursing home declined to respond to questions about protective gear, which has been in short supply in many medical facilities and care homes across the world, particularly in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis.

The Paris City Hall spokesman said the municipality provided all its staff, including those working in homes, with masks.

Earlier this week, as the death toll inside the home rose, all of its surviving residents and staff were tested for COVID-19 after the health ministry changed its protocol.

Previously, as France ramped up testing capacity, the guidance was that the first two suspected cases be assessed.

Asked if the testing had come too late, the City Hall spokesman said the municipality was taking its cue from the ARS.

“We’re approaching the peak so this is a crucial time,” he said. “We’re not too late.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Indonesians step up search for quake victims to beat deadline as toll exceeds 2,000

Men walk at Petobo neighbourhood which was hit by earthquake and liquefaction in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Rozanna Latiff and Kanupriya Kapoor

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Rescue workers in Indonesia stepped up their search for victims of an earthquake and tsunami on Tuesday, hoping to find as many bodies as they can before this week’s deadline for their work to halt, as the official death toll rose to 2,010.

The national disaster mitigation agency has called off the search from Thursday, citing concern about the spread of disease. Debris would be cleared and areas, where bodies lie, would eventually be turned into parks, sports venues and memorials.

Perhaps as many as 5,000 victims of the 7.5 magnitude quake and tsunami on Sept. 28 have yet to be found, most of them entombed in flows of mudflows that surged from the ground when the quake agitated the soil into a liquid mire.

Most of the bodies have been found in the seaside city of Palu, on the west coast of Sulawesi island, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of the capital, Jakarta.

An excavator removes a damaged car next to the debris of a mosque damaged by an earthquake in the Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 8. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

An excavator removes a damaged car next to the debris of a mosque damaged by an earthquake in the Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 8.
REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

More than 10,000 rescue workers are scouring expanses of debris, especially in three areas obliterated by soil liquefaction in the south of the small city.

“We’re not sure what will happen afterwards, so we’re trying to work as fast as possible,” said rescue worker Ahmad Amin, 29, referring to the deadline, as he took a break in the badly hit Balaroa neighborhood.

At least nine excavators were working through the rubble of Balaroa on Tuesday, picking their way through smashed buildings and pummeled vehicles. At least a dozen bodies were recovered, a Reuters photographer said.

“There are so many children still missing, we want to find them quickly,” said Amin, who is from Balaroa and has relatives unaccounted for. “It doesn’t matter if it’s my family or not, the important thing is that we find as many as we can.”

The state disaster mitigation agency said the search was being stepped up and focused more intensely on areas where many people are believed to be buried.

Forjan carries his grandson Rafa outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The decision to end the search has angered some relatives of the missing but taxi driver Rudy Rahman, 40, said he had to accept it.

“As long as they keep searching, I will be here every day looking for my son,” said Rahman, who said he had lost three sons in the disaster. The bodies of two were found, the youngest is missing.

“This is the only thing I can do, otherwise I would go insane,” he said, choking back tears. “If they stop, what can I do? There are four meters of soil here. I couldn’t do it on my own.”

‘POLITICAL SENSITIVITIES’

While Indonesian workers searched, the disaster agency ordered independent foreign aid workers to leave the quake zone.

Indonesia has traditionally been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters, and the government shunned foreign aid this year when earthquakes struck the island of Lombok.

But it has accepted help from abroad to cope with the Sulawesi disaster.

The disaster agency, in a notice posted on Twitter, set the rules out for foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), saying they were not allowed to “go directly to the field” and could only work with “local partners”.

Gumbu, 73, stands with is family outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Gumbu, 73, stands with is family outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“Foreign citizens who are working with foreign NGOs are not allowed to conduct any activity on the sites,” it said, adding that foreign NGOs with people deployed should withdraw them immediately.

A few foreign aid workers have been in the disaster zone, including a team from the group Pompiers Humanitaires Francais that searched for survivors, but they have spoken of difficulties in getting entry permits and authorization.

“This is the first time we encountered such difficulty in actually getting to do our work,” team leader Arnaud Allibert told Reuters, adding they were leaving on Wednesday as their help was no longer needed.

Indonesian governments are wary of being too open to outside help because they could face criticism from political opponents and there is particular resistance to the presence of foreign military personnel, as it could be seen as an infringement of sovereignty.

“There are political sensitivities, especially with an election coming up, and sovereignty is another issue,” said Keith Loveard, a senior analyst with advisory and risk firm Concord Consulting, referring to polls due next year.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s five main islands. The archipelago sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Foreign governments and groups played a big role in aid efforts in 2004.

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, and Tabita Diela in JAKARTA; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

Indonesia calls off operation to retrieve the bodies of almost 200 ferry victims

Relatives of missing passengers react during a visit to the location of the ferry that sank at Lake Toba in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 2, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

By Tabita Diela

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia said on Monday it was calling off a two-week operation to retrieve the bodies of nearly 200 passengers thought to have drowned in one of the world’s deepest volcanic lakes.

The overcrowded wooden ferry capsized during a storm on June 18 in Lake Toba, which is around 450 meters (1,500 feet) deep, as travelers were heading home after the Eid holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting season.

Relatives of missing passengers of a ferry that sank at Lake Toba pray in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 1, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

Relatives of missing passengers of a ferry that sank at Lake Toba pray in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 1, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

Eighteen passengers survived, three were confirmed dead and nearly 200 are missing.

The operation to find the ferry and retrieve the victims has faced numerous technical and logistical hurdles – dangerous currents and cold, murky water far deeper than any scuba diver can go – in a lake that has never been completely surveyed.

Video footage taken last week using a remotely operated underwater vehicle showed human remains, motorcycles and ropes from the ferry at a depth of 450 meters.

Rescue spokesman Muhammad Yusuf Latif confirmed that the search operation would end, adding that an official statement would likely be made on Tuesday.

“We’ve already had face-to-face discussions with the families of the victims (on) the difficulties faced in the field (and) reasons why we won’t continue; why we want to end it,” Latif said by telephone.

“They understand why we’re stopping.”

According to Muhammad Ilyas, head of the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, the wreckage was found on Saturday, but the remotely operated underwater vehicle used to find it had also become stuck in ropes connected to the ferry.

“We have proven 100 percent” that the ferry is there, Ilyas said, adding that the submersible was later retrieved but needed to be repaired as its cable had broken.

A relative of missing passengers of a ferry that sank holds a flower before throwing it into Lake Toba in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 2, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

A relative of missing passengers of a ferry that sank holds a flower before throwing it into Lake Toba in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 2, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

Rescuers earlier said they were considering borrowing a heavier vehicle from Singapore to retrieve the victims and the vessel, but that plan was canceled as it would take more than three weeks and was “high cost”, Latif said.

Craig Chesner, a geologist from Eastern Illinois University who conducted a survey of Toba in 2012, said the ferry had sunk “in the deepest part of the entire lake”.

According to media reports, a monument will be erected by the government in memory of victims.

(For a graphic on ferry accidents, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2tJOHlq)

(Reporting by Tabita Diela; Additional reporting by Simon Scarr in SINGAPORE; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Russia hunts for body fragments, clues after fatal plane crash

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry members work at the crash site of the short-haul AN-148 airplane operated by Saratov Airlines in Moscow Region, Russia February 12, 2018.

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Emergency workers in Russia searched snow-covered fields outside Moscow on Monday, looking for body fragments and clues after a fatal plane crash a day earlier killed all 71 people on board.

President Vladimir Putin has ordered a special commission to investigate what caused the AN-148 plane operated by Saratov Airlines to crash outside Moscow shortly after taking off for the city of Orsk about 900 miles (1,500 km) southeast of the capital.

Among the possible causes investigators are looking into are weather, human error and the plane’s technical condition. The crew did not send any distress signals.

Experts plan to study the plane’s two flight recorders, which were recovered, as well as plane fragments. Footage from a CCTV camera that captured some of what happened was posted online on Monday. It showed what looked like a large ball of fire streaking through the sky.

Investigators, who have opened a criminal case into the tragedy, said in a statement however that the plane had been in one piece when it plummeted toward the ground and not on fire. An explosion had occurred only after it crashed, they said.

Debris and human remains were spread over a radius of one km (less than a mile) around the crash site and recovery teams had found over 200 body fragments so far, the RIA news agency reported, saying the search could carry on for a week.

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry members work at the crash site of the short-haul AN-148 airplane operated by Saratov Airlines in Moscow Region, Russia February 12, 2018.

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry members work at the crash site of the short-haul AN-148 airplane operated by Saratov Airlines in Moscow Region, Russia February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

MOURNING

Officials from Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry told a meeting broadcast on state TV on Monday that DNA tests were being organized with the relatives of those killed to try to identify body fragments.

The plane, manufactured in 2010, had been carrying 65 passengers and six crew. The passenger list showed many young people were on board, including a five-year-old girl.

Mourners left flowers, soft toys and photographs at Orsk airport on Monday.

“We believed until the very end yesterday that at least someone would survive,” said a distraught Ekaterina Zakladnaya, 20, whose mother Natalia was killed in the crash.

“We phoned the airports and barely managed to get through and then they published the lists and mummy was second from the bottom.”

The plane’s operator, Saratov Airlines, said in a statement on Monday it was temporarily grounding its fleet of AN-148 planes until investigators had established what happened.

It said the plane involved in the crash had undergone thorough checks last month and that it had successfully flown several other routes on the same day as the crash.

(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Reuters TV; Editing by William Maclean)

Battle over bodies rages quietly in Iraq’s Mosul long after Islamic State defeat

Local residents carry bodies taken from the rubble in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq January 17, 2018

By Raya Jalabi

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – The Iraqis who have come home to Mosul’s Old City knew it would be hard living in the rubble left by the battle against Islamic State, but there is one aspect of their surroundings they are finding unbearable seven months on.

“I don’t want my children to have to walk past dead bodies in the street every day,” said Abdelrazaq Abdullah, back with his wife and three children in the quarter where the militants made their last stand in July against Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces.

“We can live without electricity, but we need the government to clear the corpses – they’re spreading disease and reminding us of the horrors we’ve just lived through.”

The stench of death wafts from rubble-filled corners in the dystopian wasteland of what was once West Mosul, from rusting cars still rigged with explosives and from homes abandoned as those who could, fled the bloody end of the militants three-year rule.

The corpses lying in the open on many streets are mainly militants from the extremist Sunni group who retreated to the densely-packed buildings of the Old City, where only the most desperate 5,000 of a pre-war population of 200,000 have so far returned.

Local residents and officials in predominantly Sunni Mosul say there are also thousands of civilian bodies yet to be retrieved from the ruins, a view which has put them at odds with the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

“There are no more civilian bodies to be picked up in Mosul,” said Brig Gen Mohammad Mahmoud, the head of Mosul’s Civil Defence, first responders who report to the Interior Ministry and are tasked with collecting them and issuing death certificates.

The Civil Defence says it had collected 2,585 civilian bodies by mid-January – many of them still unidentified – and has completed operations. It does not want to waste resources on the militants.

“Why should we have to give terrorists a proper burial?” Mahmoud said.

The standoff over the dead threatens to stoke the anger of a population already beaten down by a grueling war and the militants’ draconian rule in a place where Islamic State initially found some sympathy. The final civilian death toll is also a highly sensitive political issue in Iraq and beyond.

 

COMMON GRAVES

The municipal government has had to set up its own specialized team to field requests filed by city residents to find more than 9,000 missing people, most of them last seen in the Old City and assumed to be buried under the rubble.

The team is working through a backlog of 300 bodies, dispatching groups to collect them when it can. But these are just the ones where exact coordinates have been given by neighbors, family members or passers-by who saw the bodies.

“We don’t know how many more are under the rubble,” said Duraid Hazim Mohammed, the head of the municipal team. “If the family or a witness who saw the people die doesn’t call us to tell us exactly how many bodies are at a site, we have no way of knowing if one, five or 100 bodies are buried there.”

Locals say common graves were dug as the battle raged. In the courtyard of Um al-Tisaa mosque in the Old City, they say 100 of their neighbors were buried in groups of shallow graves.

“I buried between 50 and 60 people myself, by hand, as planes flew overhead and bombed the city,” resident Mahmoud Karim said.

Several families have since come to excavate the bodies of their relatives, to bury them in proper cemeteries. “But others, we don’t know where their families are,” Karim said. Some are dead, while others are among the thousands lingering uneasily in refugee camps or paying high rents elsewhere in the city.

The municipal government in Mosul has not given an exact figure for civilian casualties, but its head, Abdelsattar al-Hibbu, told Reuters it coincided with estimates of 10,000 civilians killed during the battle, based on reports of missing people and information from officials about the dead. The toll includes victims of ground fighting and coalition bombing.

Asked for comment, a U.S. coalition spokesman directed Reuters to publicly available reports of incidents. A tally based on those reports showed that the U.S. military acknowledges 321 deaths based on “credible allegations” in dozens of reports of civilian casualties from coalition air strikes conducted near Mosul.

A further 100 reports of casualties from coalition air strikes near Mosul, each referring either to one or to multiple deaths, were still under investigation, the data showed.

(To view an interactive graphic on battle for Mosul, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2rEoDr4)

FIGHTERS

While the most visible problem in Mosul is the corpses of fighters left in the streets, residents say they have also found bodies of suspected Islamic State family members in their homes.

The owner of a house in the Old City, who asked Reuters to withhold his name for fear of retaliation from officials, said he had asked the Civil Defence for weeks to come and remove two bodies from the main bedroom of his basement home.

They were badly decomposed but the clothing was clearly that of a woman and child.

“Civil Defence refused, because they say the woman and child are Daesh,” he said using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “They said they’re punishing me because they think I supported Daesh.”

The municipality team has collected 348 bodies of militants so far, but there are many more still around. Residents regularly walk by them to collect water from temporary pumps and on one street, young children played not far from two corpses on a doorstep.

Some of the fighters are recognizable from their clothing, some were identified to the government by neighbors, some yet, were found clutching the weapons they used to make their last stand against surrounding Iraqi and coalition forces.

The municipal government team’s efforts are hampered by very limited funds. On several days in January, they had to halt operations amid a shortage of gloves, masks and body bags.

Some families have resorted to digging out their dead themselves, like 23-year-old Mustafa Nader, who came back to look for his great-uncle Abdullah Ahmed Hussain.

“We weren’t sure if we would find him here,” Nader said of his elderly sculptor uncle, tears in his eyes after an hour of digging unearthed his body. “I thought maybe he could have left or gone to a neighbor’s house.”

Others still have resorted to drastic measures.

Ayad came back in early January after six months in a refugee camp and found the corpses of three Islamic State fighters rotting in what remained of his living room. “The flies, the smell, the disease,” he said. “It was awful.”

The municipality team said it would be weeks before they could get to him so Ayad asked a soldier on patrol to look over the bodies and make sure there were no explosives.

Then, Ayad set them on fire.

With most of his money spent on a tarp to cover the gaping hole where his front door once stood, he borrowed $20 from his sister, for bleach to try to erase the traces so his family of ten could move back in.

“The smell still hasn’t fully gone away,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Exclusive: FBI agents raid headquarters of major U.S. body broker

Exclusive: FBI agents raid headquarters of major U.S. body broker

By John Shiffman and Brian Grow

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) – Federal agents have seized records from a national company that solicits thousands of Americans to donate their bodies to science each year, then profits by dissecting the parts and distributing them for use by researchers and educators.

The search warrant executed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at MedCure Inc headquarters here on November 1 is sealed, and the bureau and the company declined to comment on the nature of the FBI investigation. But people familiar with the matter said the inquiry concerns the manner in which MedCure distributes body parts acquired from its donors.

MedCure is among the largest brokers of cadavers and body parts in the United States. From 2011 through 2015, documents obtained under public-record laws show, the company received more than 11,000 donated bodies and distributed more than 51,000 body parts to medical industry customers nationally. In a current brochure, the company says that 80,000 additional people have pledged to donate their bodies to MedCure when they die.

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele confirmed the day-long search of the 25,000-square-foot facility, but declined to comment further because the matter is under seal. A person familiar with the matter said that FBI agents took records from MedCure but did not remove human remains.

The search warrant, though sealed, signals that an FBI investigation of MedCure has reached an advanced stage. To obtain a search warrant to seize records, rather than demand them via subpoena, FBI agents must provide a detailed affidavit to a U.S. magistrate with evidence to support probable cause that crimes have been committed and that related records may be on the premises.

“MedCure is fully cooperating with the FBI, and looks forward to resolving whatever questions the government may have about their business,” said Jeffrey Edelson, a Portland attorney who represents the company. “Out of respect for the integrity of the process, we do not believe that further comment is appropriate at this time.”

It is illegal to profit from the sale of organs destined for transplant, such as hearts and kidneys. But as a Reuters series detailed last month, it is legal in most U.S. states to sell donated whole bodies or their dissected parts, such as arms and heads, for medical research, training and education.

Commonly known as body brokers, these businesses often profit by targeting people too poor to afford a burial or cremation. Reuters documented how people who donate their bodies to science may be unwittingly contributing to commerce. Few states regulate the body donation industry, and those that do so have different rules, enforced with varying degrees of thoroughness. Body parts can be bought with ease in the United States. A Reuters reporter bought two heads and a spine from a Tennessee broker with just a few emails.

MedCure, founded in 2005, is based outside Portland, Oregon, and has offices in Nevada, Florida, Rhode Island and Missouri, as well as Amsterdam, the Netherlands. At some locations, including the one near Portland, MedCure provides training labs for doctors and health professionals to practice surgical techniques. MedCure also sends body parts and technicians to assist with medical conferences across the country.

MedCure is accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks, a national organization that primarily works with transplant tissue banks. The broker is also licensed by the state health departments in Oregon and New York, among the few states that conduct inspections. According to Oregon state health records, officials renewed MedCure’s license in January, following a routine on-site review.

The Reuters series, “The Body Trade,” can be read at https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-bodies-brokers/

(Edited by Michael Williams)

Special Report: In the market for human bodies, almost anyone can sell the dead

A coffin, mops and coolers used to transport body parts lie in an abandoned courtyard outside a warehouse once shared by a funeral home and the body broker Southern Nevada Donor Services in suburban Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. July 19, 2016. REUTERS/John Shiffman

By Brian Grow and John Shiffman

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The company stacked brochures in funeral parlors around Sin City. On the cover: a couple clasping hands. Above the image, a promise: “Providing Options in Your Time of Need.”

The company, Southern Nevada Donor Services, offered grieving families a way to eliminate expensive funeral costs: free cremation in exchange for donating a loved one’s body to “advance medical studies.”

Outside Southern Nevada’s suburban warehouse, the circumstances were far from comforting. In the fall of 2015, neighboring tenants began complaining about a mysterious stench and bloody boxes in a Dumpster. That December, local health records show, someone contacted authorities to report odd activity in the courtyard.

Health inspectors found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose. He was thawing a frozen human torso in the midday sun.

As the man sprayed the remains, “bits of tissue and blood were washed into the gutters,” a state health report said. The stream weaved past storefronts and pooled across the street near a technical school.

Southern Nevada, the inspectors learned, was a so-called body broker, a company that acquires dead bodies, dissects them and sells the parts for profit to medical researchers, training organizations and other buyers. The torso on the gurney was being prepared for just such a sale.

Each year, thousands of Americans donate their bodies in the belief they are contributing to science. In fact, many are also unwittingly contributing to commerce, their bodies traded as raw material in a largely unregulated national market.

Body brokers are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Selling hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.

“The current state of affairs is a free-for-all,” said Angela McArthur, who directs the body donation program at the University of Minnesota Medical School and formerly chaired her state’s anatomical donation commission. “We are seeing similar problems to what we saw with grave-robbers centuries ago,” she said, referring to the 19th-century practice of obtaining cadavers in ways that violated the dignity of the dead.

“I don’t know if I can state this strongly enough,” McArthur said. “What they are doing is profiting from the sale of humans.”

The industry’s business model hinges on access to a large supply of free bodies, which often come from the poor. In return for a body, brokers typically cremate a portion of the donor at no charge. By offering free cremation, some deathcare industry veterans say, brokers appeal to low-income families at their most vulnerable. Many have drained their savings paying for a loved one’s medical treatment and can’t afford a traditional funeral.

“People who have financial means get the chance to have the moral, ethical and spiritual debates about which method to choose,” said Dawn Vander Kolk, an Illinois hospice social worker. “But if they don’t have money, they may end up with the option of last resort: body donation.”

Few rules mean few consequences when bodies are mistreated. In the Southern Nevada case, officials found they could do little more than issue a minor pollution citation to one of the workers involved. Southern Nevada operator Joe Collazo, who wasn’t cited, said he regretted the incident. He said the industry would benefit from oversight that offers peace of mind to donors, brokers and researchers.

“To be honest with you, I think there should be regulation,” said Collazo. “There’s too much gray area.”

“BIG MARKET FOR DEAD BODIES”

Donated bodies play an essential role in medical education, training and research. Cadavers and body parts are used to train medical students, doctors, nurses and dentists. Surgeons say no mannequin or computer simulation can replicate the tactile response and emotional experience of practicing on human body parts. Paramedics, for example, use human heads and torsos to learn how to insert breathing tubes.

Researchers rely on donated human body parts to develop new surgical instruments, techniques and implants; and to develop new medicines and treatments for diseases.

“The need for human bodies is absolutely vital,” said Chicago doctor Armand Krikorian, past president of the American Federation for Medical Research. He cited a recent potential cure for Type 1 diabetes developed by studying pancreases from body donors. “It’s a kind of treatment that would have never come to light if we did not have whole-body donation.”

Despite the industry’s critically important role in medicine, no national registry of body brokers exists. Many can operate in near anonymity, quietly making deals to obtain cadavers and sell the parts.

“There is a big market for dead bodies,” said Ray Madoff, a Boston College Law School professor who studies how U.S. laws treat the dead. “We know very little about who is acquiring these bodies and what they are doing with them.”

In most states, anyone can legally purchase body parts. As an upcoming story will detail, a Tennessee broker sold Reuters a cervical spine and two human heads after just a few email exchanges.

Through interviews and public records, Reuters identified Southern Nevada and 33 other body brokers active across America during the past five years. Twenty-five of the 34 body brokers were for-profit corporations; the rest were nonprofits. In three years alone, one for-profit broker earned at least $12.5 million stemming from the body part business, an upcoming Reuters report will show.

Because only four states closely track donations and sales, the breadth of the market for body parts remains unknown. But data obtained under public record laws from those states – New York, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida – provide a snapshot. Reuters calculated that from 2011 through 2015, private brokers received at least 50,000 bodies and distributed more than 182,000 body parts.

Permits from Florida and Virginia offer a glimpse of how some of those parts were used: A 2013 shipment to a Florida orthopedic training seminar included 27 shoulders. A 2015 shipment to a session on carpal tunnel syndrome in Virginia included five arms.

As with other commodities, prices for bodies and body parts fluctuate with market conditions. Generally, a broker can sell a donated human body for about $3,000 to $5,000, though prices sometime top $10,000. But a broker will typically divide a cadaver into six parts to meet customer needs. Internal documents from seven brokers show a range of prices for body parts: $3,575 for a torso with legs; $500 for a head; $350 for a foot; $300 for a spine.

Body brokers also have become intertwined with the American funeral industry. Reuters identified 62 funeral operators that have struck mutually beneficial business arrangements with brokers. The funeral homes provide brokers access to potential donors. In return, the brokers pay morticians referral fees, ranging from $300 to $1,430, according to broker ledgers and court records.

These payments generate income for morticians from families who might not be able to otherwise afford even simple cremation. But such relationships raise potential conflicts of interest by creating an incentive for funeral homes to encourage grieving relatives to consider body donation, sometimes without fully understanding what might happen to the remains.

“Some funeral home directors are saying, ‘Cremation isn’t paying the bills anymore, so let me see if I can help people harvest body parts,’” said Steve Palmer, an Arizona mortician who serves on the National Funeral Directors Association’s policy board. “I just think families who donate loved ones would have second thoughts if they knew that.”

Some morticians have made body donation part of their own businesses. In Oklahoma, two funeral home owners invested $650,000 in a startup body broker firm. In Colorado, a family operating a funeral home ran a company that dissected and distributed body parts from the same building.

When a body is donated, few states provide rules governing dismemberment or use, or offer any rights to a donor’s next of kin. Bodies and parts can be bought, sold and leased, again and again. As a result, it can be difficult to track what becomes of the bodies of donors, let alone ensure that they are handled with dignity.

In 2004, a federal health panel unsuccessfully called on the U.S. government to regulate the industry. Since then, more than 2,357 body parts obtained by brokers from at least 1,638 people have been misused, abused or desecrated across America, Reuters found.

The count, based on a review of court, police, bankruptcy and internal broker records, is almost certainly understated, given the lack of oversight. It includes instances in which bodies were used without donor or next-of-kin consent; donors were misled about how bodies would be used; bodies were dismembered by chainsaws instead of medical instruments; body parts were stored in such unsanitary conditions that they decomposed; or bodies were discarded in medical waste incinerators instead of being properly cremated.

Most brokers employ a distinctive language to describe what they do and how they make money. They call human remains “tissue,” not body parts, for example. And they detest the term “body brokers.” They prefer to be known as “non-transplant tissue banks.”

Most also insist they don’t “sell” body parts but instead only charge “fees” for services. Such characterizations, however, are contradicted by other documents Reuters reviewed, including court filings in which brokers clearly attach monetary value to donated remains.

A lien filed by one body broker against another cited as collateral “all tissue inventory owned by or in the possession of debtor.” In bankruptcy filings, brokers have claimed body parts as assets. One debtor included as property not only cabinets, desks and computers, but also spines, heads and other body parts. The bankrupt broker valued the human remains at $160,900.

“There are no real rules,” said Thomas Champney, a University of Miami anatomy professor who teaches bioethics. “This is the ultimate gift people have given, and we really need to respect that.”

Last December, Reuters reported that more than 20 bodies donated to an Arizona broker were used in U.S. Army blast experiments – without the consent of the deceased or next of kin. Some donors or their families had explicitly noted an objection to military experiments on consent forms. Family members learned of the 2012 and 2013 experiments not from the Army but from a Reuters reporter who obtained records about what happened.

In another case, Detroit body broker Arthur Rathburn is scheduled to stand trial in January for fraud, accused of supplying unsuspecting doctors with body parts infected with hepatitis and HIV for use in training seminars. U.S. officials cited the case as an example of their commitment to protect the public. But Reuters found that, despite warning signs, state and federal officials failed to rein in Rathburn for more than a decade, allowing him to continue to acquire hundreds of body parts and rent them out for profit. He has pleaded not guilty.

Given the number of body brokers that currently operate in America, academics and others familiar with the industry say regular inspections of facilities and reviews of donor consent forms wouldn’t place a big burden on government.

“This isn’t reinventing the wheel,” said Christina Strong, a New Jersey lawyer who co-wrote a set of standards that most states largely adopted for the organ transplant industry. “It would not be a stretch to envision a uniform state law which requires that those who recover, distribute and use human bodies adhere to uniform standards of transparency, traceability and authorization.”

But without consistent laws or a clear oversight authority – local, state or national – “nobody is accounting for anything,” said Todd Olson, an anatomy and structural biology professor at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Nobody is watching. We regulate heads of lettuce in this country more than we regulate heads of bodies.”

“RAW MATERIALS FOR FREE”

Body brokers range in size from small, family-operated endeavors to national firms with offices in several states. Brokers also vary in expertise.

Garland Shreves, who founded Phoenix broker Research for Life in 2009, said he invested more than $2 million in quality-control procedures and medical equipment, including $265,000 on an X-ray machine to scan cadavers for surgical implants.

But other brokers have launched their businesses for less than $100,000, internal corporate records and interviews show. Often, the largest capital expenses are a cargo van and a set of freezers. Some brokers have saved money by using chainsaws to carve up the dead instead of more expensive surgical saws.

“You have people who want to do it in a pretty half-assed way,” Shreves said. “I have really grown to dislike the business.”

Brokers can also reduce expenses by forgoing the meticulous quality control procedures and sophisticated training called for by a national accreditation organization, the American Association of Tissue Banks.

In Honolulu, police were called twice to storage facilities leased by body broker Bryan Avery in 2011 and 2012. Each time, they found decomposing human remains. Both times, police concluded that Avery committed no crimes because no state law applied.

Steven Labrash, who directs University of Hawaii’s body donation program, said the Avery case illustrates the need for laws to protect donors.

“Everybody knows that what he did was unethical and wrong,” Labrash said of Avery. “But did he break any laws? Not the way they are written today.”

Avery defended how he ran his business and said the incidents were the result of misunderstandings. He said he is now raising capital for a new company, Hawaii BioSkills, which he said will use body parts to train surgeons.

“I’m all for oversight, and companies that are doing this need to be transparent,” Avery said. “As long as it doesn’t infringe upon the flow of business, that’s fine.”

Walt Mitchell, a Phoenix businessman involved in the startup of three brokers, said one reason the industry attracts entrepreneurs is that businesses can profit handsomely from selling a donated product.

“If you can’t make a business when you’re getting raw materials for free,” Mitchell said, “you’re dumb as a box of rocks.”

Even so, a third of the 34 brokers Reuters identified went bankrupt or failed to pay their taxes, according to court filings. When failing businesses in the industry cut corners to save money, the consequences for the families of donors can be emotionally wrenching.

“THE LAST SELFLESS THING”

Harold Dillard worked with his brother resurfacing bathtubs and kitchen countertops in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer the day after Thanksgiving in 2009.

“He was 56 years young, active, healthy, had a great life, and one night – bam!” said his daughter, Farrah Fasold. “He wanted to do the last selfless thing he could do before he died, and so he donated his body.”

As her father lay dying, Fasold said, employees from Albuquerque broker Bio Care visited father and daughter, and made a heartfelt pitch: The generous gift of his body to science would benefit medical students, doctors and researchers. Fasold said Bio Care cited several sample possibilities, including that her father’s body might be used to train surgeons on knee replacement techniques.

Fasold’s view of Bio Care soon changed. It took weeks longer than promised to receive what she was told were her father’s cremated remains. Once she received them, she suspected they were not his ashes because they looked like sand. She was correct.

In April 2010, Fasold was told by authorities that her father’s head was among body parts discovered at a medical incinerator. She also learned – for the first time, she said – that Bio Care was in the business of selling body parts.

“I was completely hysterical,” she said. “We would have never have signed up if they had ever said anything about selling body parts – no way. That’s not what my dad wanted at all.”

Inside Bio Care’s warehouse, authorities said they found at least 127 body parts belonging to 45 people.

“All of the bodies appeared to have been dismembered by a coarse cutting instrument, such as a chainsaw,” a police detective wrote in an affidavit.

Bio Care owner Paul Montano was charged with fraud. According to the police affidavit, Montano denied abusing bodies and told detectives that he ran Bio Care with “five volunteer employees,” including his father. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Prosecutors later withdrew the charge against Montano because they said they could not prove deception or any other crime. No other state law regulated the handling of donated bodies or protected the next of kin.

Confused and outraged, Fasold spoke by phone with Kari Brandenburg, then the district attorney in Bernalillo County. Fasold recorded a portion of the call.

“What happened was horrible, but New Mexico law is silent on this kind of activity,” Brandenburg told Fasold. The prosecutor said that, although Montano was perhaps “the worst businessman in the world,” his failures were due in part to deals that fell through.

“So,” Fasold replied, “because other people reneged on their agreements, it’s OK for him to go ahead and chop up my dad’s body and have it incinerated?”

“No, it’s not OK,” the prosecutor replied. “But it doesn’t make it a crime. There’s no criminal law that says this is wrong.”

In a recent interview, Brandenburg said that she, too, was frustrated to find that no law protects people like Fasold and her father. “It was outrageous,” the former prosecutor said. “These families were devastated and injured in a deep way.”

Authorities ultimately recovered the other body parts of Fasold’s father and returned them to her for proper cremation. Some had been found in tubs at the incinerator and some at the Bio Care facility.

Fasold said in an interview she is surprised that the law hasn’t been changed to protect relatives.

“They could have done something long ago, passed new laws,” she said of the body broker industry. “It’s just so shady and devious.”

LUCRATIVE PARTNERSHIP

Partnerships between body brokers and funeral homes can sometimes yield sizeable businesses.

In 2009, Oklahoma funeral home owners Darin Corbett and Hal Ezzell invested $650,000 for a 50 percent stake in a company created by former executives of a large Phoenix-based body broker, court records show. According to an investor prospectus reviewed by Reuters, the new firm’s five-year revenue forecast was $13.8 million based on 2,100 donated bodies.

“Darin and I felt like we had, through our funeral home ties, the ability, if we wanted, to encourage donors,” Ezzell said in an interview.

The Norman, Oklahoma firm, United Tissue Network, converted to nonprofit status in 2012 to comply with a change in state law. But a for-profit company co-owned by Ezzell, Corbett and United Tissue President David Breedlove is paid to provide management services, leased equipment and loans. In 2015, for example, their nonprofit paid their for-profit $412,000 for services, tax records show.

Ezzell and Corbett said they are passive investors. But, Corbett added, “we suggest families consider (United Tissue) first because they are local and time delay is critical,” obliquely referring to the fact that bodies decompose quickly.

The nonprofit United Tissue also has supplied donated human remains to Breedlove’s for-profit company, Anatomical Innovations. That company sold authentic human skulls, elbows, livers and eyeballs, among other body parts. Online, it advertised free shipping on purchases over $125. After inquiries from Reuters, Breedlove closed Anatomical Innovations.

Breedlove said consent forms signed by United Tissue donors permitted the dissection and transfer of body parts to for-profit entities, including the one he owned. The forms allow United Tissue, at its “sole discretion,” to use a body as deemed necessary “to facilitate the gift.”

“Our consents are pretty clear about what the anatomical uses may be,” he said.

According to Oklahoma state filings obtained under public records laws, United Tissue has grown steadily. From 2012 through 2016, United Tissue received 3,542 bodies. Almost half were referred by funeral homes. Ezzell said that last year, no more than 10 percent came from mortuaries owned by Corbett or him.

During that five-year period, the records show, United Tissue distributed 17,956 body parts to clients. Supply has sometimes exceeded demand. In late 2015, the broker sent an email in which it offered customers a price break to help move surplus arms, pelvises and shoulders.

“I wanted to let you know of a few specimens we have an overstock that we are trying to place before the end of the year,” United Tissue Executive Director Alyssa Harrison wrote to a bone research organization. “We are offering these as a discounted fee for December.”

Harrison said in an interview that while she always respects the dead, she has a duty to sustain the operation.

“It is a product, a very precious product,” she said. “I still have to make enough money to pay my employees and keep our doors open. Yes, it is human tissue, but there is still a market value.”

THE FROZEN TORSO

The 2015 incident outside Las Vegas involving the frozen torso was also the product of a partnership between a body broker and a funeral home.

Both the broker, Southern Nevada Donor Services, and the funeral home, Valley Cremation and Burial, were struggling financially. Valley agreed to allow Southern Nevada to dissect and prepare cadavers and body parts at its funeral home. The remains and related paperwork would be kept at Valley’s warehouse in the suburban industrial park, a few miles away.

Southern Nevada’s owner, Joe Collazo, had a decade’s experience selling body parts. Court records show he also served nearly two years in prison in the late 1990s for forgery. And a former employer once accused him in a lawsuit of stealing donated body parts valued at $75,000 and selling them to a customer in Turkey.

Collazo said his forgery conviction is irrelevant and the theft allegation untrue. His business followed industry best practices, he said, and served an important public service to the medical community.

Local and state officials reported that they found other troubling signs, beyond the torso, at the storage facility. These included a bloody, motorized saw typically used by construction workers, and moldy body parts inside an unplugged freezer.

Valley is no longer in business, and the owner died, according to state records. Southern Nevada also dissolved – in a trail of debt and desecrated body parts.

Seven months after health officials inspected the place, the courtyard remained littered with empty coolers bearing Southern Nevada’s initials. Nearby stood a rusted kiln, a pair of filthy mops and a gunmetal gray coffin, broiling in the desert sun.

The only person charged in the incident was Gary Derischebourg, a funeral home employee who said his duties included helping prepare body parts for Collazo. Derischebourg said he was too busy to defrost the torso, so he asked an unemployed friend to do it. Derischebourg pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor pollution citation for the stream of water that contained human tissue.

Someone, he said, needed to take responsibility. “I’m a stand-up guy,” he said.

As for the defrosted torso? Collazo said he rented it to a group of surgeons, then had it cremated.

Today, Collazo is a manager at a car dealership. Derischebourg drives for Uber.

(Reported by Brian Grow and John Shiffman; Additional reporting by Adam DeRose, Elizabeth Culliford, Mir Ubaid and Sophia Kunthara; Edited by Blake Morrison.)

270 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide: mayor

270 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide: mayor

By Christo Johnson and Umaru Fofana

FREETOWN (Reuters) – Rescue workers have recovered 270 bodies so far from a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, the mayor said on Tuesday, as rescue operations continued and morgues struggled to find space for all the dead.

President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents of Regent and other flooded areas around Freetown to evacuate immediately so that military personnel and other rescue workers could continue to search for survivors that might be buried underneath debris.

Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years.

“We have a total of 270 corpses which we are now preparing for burial,” Freetown mayor Sam Gibson told reporters outside city hall.

Bodies have continued to arrive at the city’s central morgue. Corpses are lying on the floor and on the ground outside because the morgue is overloaded, a Reuters witness said.

“Our problem here is space. We are trying to separate, quantify, and examine quickly and then we will issue death certificates before the burial,” said Owiz Koroma, head of the morgue.

He did not have an updated death toll but said: “It’s in the hundreds, hundreds!”

270 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide: mayor

The surface of a hillside is pictured after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ernest Henry

FEAR OF DISEASE

Sierra Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said by phone he estimated that at least 3,000 people were homeless and in need of shelter, medical assistance and food. The Red Cross said another 600 were missing.

“We are also fearful of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Freetown. “We can only hope that this does not happen.”

Contaminated water and water-logging often lead to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhea after floods and mudslides.

Crowds of people gathered, waiting for news of missing family members.

“I’ve been looking for my aunt and her two children, but so far no word about them,” said Mohamed Jalloh, crying. He said he feared the worst.

President Koroma said in a television address on Monday evening that rescue centers had been set up around the capital to register and assist victims.

Bulldozers dug through mud and rubble at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf, where many residents had been asleep when part of the mountainside collapsed. The government said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.

(Writing by Nellie Peyton; additional reporting by Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Fourteen bodies found after ‘execution’ in Benghazi, Libya

UN leader talking with Libyan immigrant

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Fourteen unidentified bodies with shot wounds to the head have been found in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, a hospital official said on Friday.

U.N. Libya envoy Martin Kobler said he was “shocked and dismayed by the summary execution,” labeling it a war crime and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The bodies were recovered from Laithi, a neighborhood that forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar captured this year from a loose alliance of Islamists and other opponents.

Military officials from Haftar’s forces refused to comment, saying the incident was under investigation.

Benghazi has seen some of the heaviest violence of the sporadic conflict that developed after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in an uprising in 2011.

Haftar has been waging a military campaign there for the past two years against a coalition of armed groups called the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. His forces have advanced in several areas in recent months, but have not gained full control over the city.

Campaign group Amnesty International said on Thursday that air strikes by Haftar’s forces were endangering the lives of scores of detainees being held captive in Benghazi.

Amnesty said it appeared that the Shura Council may be using the captives as human shields, which can constitute a war crime. It said the captives were likely being held in the district of Ganfouda, where Haftar’s forces have recently dropped leaflets urging civilians to leave.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by James Dalgleish)