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The Cemetery That Is Now a Mass Grave

Gabriel Elizondo

As I write, the death toll has reached 641 from the floods and landslides that wiped out much of Brazil's Serrana region of Rio de Janeiro state. Of those, 271 are from Teresopolis, where I have been since Wednesday night of last week.

It's easy - too easy - to get caught up in the phrase "death toll", like it's some abstract numbering of an algorithm. It's not. And I was reminded when I visited the cemetery in Teresopolis. It's been turned into something more like a mass grave.

When we arrived, it was raining, and gravediggers could not dig the holes fast enough to put in coffins. They were literally using a backhoe to dig holes as quickly as possible.

There was no time to put in proper gravestones with the names of the dead. So a lone cemetery worker would write the name on a log, and then when the coffin was dropped in the grave, covered with dirt a wooden cross with a number would be stuck in the ground.

This is what it has come down to in Teresopolis.

The once charming and peaceful hilltop cemetery overlooking lush green mountain hillsides has grown so overcrowded that a judge signed a decree saying old gravesites can be unearthed to make space for the incoming dead.

The cemetery in Teresopolis, Brazil: It was a scene I will never, ever, forget.


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