Hart Island Cleanup to Finally Begin 7 years After Superstorm Sandy Unearthed Human Remains

When Superstorm Sandy hit the New York City region in 2012, no corner of the region was left unscathed and The Bronx was no exception.

One particularly grim instance was the further erosion of Hart Island, the country’s largest public cemetery where the forgotten and poorest of the poor are interred, where human remains were exposed along with damage done to the sea wall on its northern coast.

Now, after 7 years, New York City will finally begin the process of cleaning up human remains and repairing the damaged sea wall.

Exposed human remains on Hart Island in this photo from 2017 from Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants

The fact that it has taken this long is an absolute disgrace considering the island’s history and who’s buried there.

Over 1 million people are buried here including some of the earliest victims to succumb to the AIDS crisis that gripped New York City in the 1980s and well into the 90s.

The Washington Post reports:

“It’s not the way to treat those who have passed with dignity,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “This restoration project is a step in the right direction of us treating Hart Island as a public cemetery.”

In 2015, the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted the city $13.2 million for the two-year restoration. Unlike standard sea-wall restorations, the project on Hart Island requires a high degree of archaeological expertise on the handling of human remains.

“Erosion on Hart Island means human remains are exposed and they wash away,” said Melinda Hunt, president of the Hart Island Project, an advocacy group. “There is an obligation on the part of the city to bury people and to keep them buried.”

Hart Island’s damaged sea wall and exposed human remains/Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press

According to Hunt, there are reports from 1985 documenting that human remains were being found back then, indicating that the problem was decades long and simply exacerbated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Last year, 174 human bones were recovered along the shores after two months after CBS News reported that human remains from Hart Island were washing up in local communities with some claiming they had found human bones on Orchard Beach.

New York City Parks Department vehemently denied that this was happening but the recovery of the human bones along the north shore of Hart Island only strengthened previous claims of the occurrences.

Hart Island just off the eastern shore of City Island and Orchard Beach.

Hart Island is currently under the administration of New York City’s Department of Correction which uses inmates to work on the island and makes it near impossible for families and loved ones to visit the graves as there are heavy restrictions for access due to the fact that Corrections is in charge.

Local advocates and lawmakers want to change that including Councilman Mark Levine who wants to transfer control from Corrections to NYC Parks Department and Recreation so that family and loved ones can visit with better ease.

But for now, NYC will finally begin to right one wrong and let these unfortunate souls rest in peace.

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