The Black Voice, out of San Bernardino, California, is part of a coalition effort to send 10 volunteers to New Orleans to recover bodies.  The effort is also being co-sponsored by entertainer Nancy Wilson and her husband, the Reverend Wiley Burton.

Mark McKay of McKay’s Family Mortuary said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent out a call for morticians across the country to send supplies, but excluded many black mortuaries. McKay and others fear that black morticians will not be allowed to participate in the recovery and burial of bodies, many of which are African American victims. McKay believes it is important to bring dignity to the process and honor the dead.

In fact, Kenyon International Emergency Services announced Sept. 7 that it signed a contract with the state of Louisiana to recover bodies. The contract runs from Sept. 12 to Nov. 15 at the rate of $118,980 per day.

Kenyon is a subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI), which runs a chain of funeral homes. They have provided services at the World Trade Center site and after the tsunami in Thailand. A longtime supporter of George W. Bush, the Houston-based company operates 1,500 funeral homes throughout North America.

In the past SCI has been accused of unethical practices, including using unlicensed embalmers and dumping bodies to clear space for new graves and additional profits.

The process of preparing the bodies for burial is being handled almost solely by the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, (DMORT) an organization supervised under FEMA. According to Don Kelly, public information officer for DMORT, the organization uses only trained and certified individuals who have been immunized and have not been accepting the services of untrained personnel in the handling of the bodies.

Led by Mark House, a probation officer, licensed mortician and owner of Windthrop Industries, which makes caskets, the team of volunteers was scheduled to leave for New Orleans October 4, after receiving permission from FEMA.  His group has ten days to brave the hazards of handling bodies along with bacteria, mold, poisons from refineries, lead dust and airborne asbestos.  Like him, many of the volunteers are already employed in law enforcement; two are licensed morticians; and others work in the funeral business.

Stay tuned for further developments on this issue.

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