Against the backdrop of the Liberian government’s announcement that it would “consider cremating” (burning) the corpses of those who have died from the deadly Ebola virus, the burial team from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOH/SW) on Saturday dumped at least 45 bodies in Kissi Camp, near the Kpeh-kpeh Town Community, Upper Johnsonville, just northwest of the City of Paynesville.
Guarded by a heavily armed platoon of the Liberian Army as well as Police Support Unit (PSU) officers from the Liberia National Police, two mini trucks conveyed the corpses to the west bank of the Kpanwein River to be dropped off in mass graves dug by a hired yellow machine.
The Kpanwein River connects the Kpeh-Kpeh Town Community to Whein Town in the east and Chicken Soup Factory on Somalia Drive in the west, as well as Upper and Lower Johnsonville and many other communities.
Since the first truckload of corpses arrived Saturday, residents of Johnsonville have vehemently rejected the use of their community to dispose of the bodies. According to Kpeh-Kpeh Town Chief Joseph S. Karway, the community's main concern is that the plot of land where the graves have been dug is a wetland on the bank of a river that is a source of water for many surrounding communities. They fear that their wells – from which they get water for drinking and domestic use – will get contaminated, exposing them to other diseases.
Furthermore, the land designated for the disposal of the corpses is privately owned, with cornerstones conspicuously planted and marked. One of the landowners, a businessman named Mr. Cole, said he was never contacted regarding the use of the piece of land he had purchased with a probated deed for his son, Joseph F. Dolo (cornerstone marked: JFD). “I’m not asking them to pay me [money] for my land. I’m going to take the authorities to task for illegally using my land to bury dead bodies,” he said.
Enraged that they had not been informed that their community would play host to such a burial site given the implications involved, youth from Kpeh-kpeh Town and nearby communities started felling trees across the road, denying passage to the vehicles en route to bury the dead.
The PSU responded with brutal action which turned bloody for some of the resistant residents. The police were backed by troops of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) commanded by 1st Lieutenant Alloycious Quaye of the Military Police Unit (MP).
1st Lt Quaye told the Daily Observer that the AFL’s duty was to provide ‘security’ for the yellow machine and other government vehicles that were assigned with the process of burying the bodies in the area.”
But in the process, some residents who tried to put up resistance to the process — identified as Carey Daniel, Sheriff, Armstrong, and few other persons, among them, a couple, Prince and Patience Yormie — were allegedly brutalized by the LNP officers.
For his part, Johnsonville Township Commissioner, Melvin Bettie, told the Daily Observer that he was indirectly connected to the dumping of the bodies, because, when approached by the MOH/SW authorities, he could not immediately provide a burial site for the corpses.
According to him, he was not the one who ordered the execution of the burial exercise, but “because of my job, I assigned the Land Commissioner, Michael Taylor, to supervise the process.”
Mr. Taylor is yet to comment regarding his involvement.
While it is not yet clear exactly who authorized the burial of the Ebola corpses in that location, this is a glaring example of the Liberian government’s lack of coordination and capacity to handle the effects of the Ebola epidemic.
The yellow machine broke down after a few graves were dug and, as a result, several other bodies were left floating in holes of water, not properly buried.
The corpses, according to our security source, were those collected from several other local hospitals including the ones picked up from the ELWA Hospital, particularly at the Ebola ‘Quarantine’ Unit.
The corpses were accompanied by corresponding plywood pegs bearing their respective names, ages and dates of death. However, the pegs were left scattered on the ground with no apparent attempt to mark the graves of the deceased.
Among the corpses deposited there is that of the late Dr. Patrick Nshamdze, 57, who expired on August 1, 2014. He was a Cameroonian and the Chief Administrator of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Congo Town, Monrovia.
Others include: Vivian Pewe, 24; Joyce Paul, 28; John Forkpah, 27; Musu Johnson, 39, Sister Shalor, 35; Gerald K. Kollie, 45; Joe Gbozeh, 50; Mercy Dahn, 35; James D. Paul, 35; Joy Moses, 58; Augustine Jalo, 45; Isatu Joe, 20; Mamie S. Kparteh, 29; and Edward K. Brown, 63; Lusu Fayia, 60; Hawa Sirleaf, 24; Krubo Carter; 17, Korpo E. Kollie, 25; and Kollie Klemie, 60; among others. They all died at various locations reportedly of the Ebola-like symptoms between July 29 and August 1, 2014.
Up to press time last night, the Observer reliably learnt that authorities of the MOH/SW were transporting more corpses to the site for dumping.