'Living Through A Nightmare': Brazil's Manaus Digs A Mass Grave As Deaths Mount : Coronavirus Updates Cemeteries and hospitals are overwhelmed by a surge in fatalities, most of which are not registered in official COVID-19 statistics because of a lack of testing and bureaucratic delays.
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'Living Through A Nightmare': Brazil's Manaus Digs A Mass Grave As Deaths Mount

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'Living Through A Nightmare': Brazil's Manaus Digs A Mass Grave As Deaths Mount

'Living Through A Nightmare': Brazil's Manaus Digs A Mass Grave As Deaths Mount

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/842802500/844563026" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The number of people dying of COVID-19 in Brazil is surging. Officially, it's more than 3,600. But with relatively little testing, the real toll is believed to be far higher. NPR's Philip Reeves reports that one Brazilian city, Manaus, can no longer cope.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Wollace de Lima lost his father a week ago. He was 55. His death wasn't officially registered as COVID-19 because he wasn't tested. De Lima's certain the virus caused it.

WOLLACE DE LIMA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: His dad had all the symptoms, he explains.

DE LIMA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: De Lima used his cellphone to film inside the hospital during his father's final hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DE LIMA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "My dad's dying, and there's no one here to help him," he says. He saw corpses on hospital beds alongside patients.

DE LIMA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "When my dad died, I counted nine other bodies," says De Lima.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: Outside the hospital, there were angry scenes. The nightmare continued when de Lima took his father's body to the cemetery.

DE LIMA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "There were about 20 other funeral cars," he says. Manaus is a river port in the Amazon rainforest. It's capital of Brazil's Amazonas state. Drug trafficking's rampant. Homicides happen every day. The carnage caused by COVID-19 is in another category. Patricia Sicchar is a doctor now on the frontline.

PATRICIA SICCHAR: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "The population of Amazonas is being decimated," she says. Sicchar says chronic corruption has starved local hospitals of resources. She's had to buy her own personal protection equipment. The health system's not prepared for the coronavirus, she says.

SICCHAR: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "There's zero planning, zero organization," she says.

SICCHAR: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "Ambulances carrying patients must wait outside hospitals because there are no beds," says Sicchar. So far, Manaus has only registered 193 COVID-19 deaths, yet the mayor's office says the average number of people dying every day has more than tripled. During the first three days of this week, there were 340 burials, it says.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT RUNNING)

REEVES: Manaus has begun burying its dead in mass graves. An online video of its largest cemetery shows backhoes pouring earth onto coffins within.

MANUEL VIANA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "This is the only option," says Manuel Viana, a local funeral director. Otherwise, it would be impossible to dig enough graves. Viana says some families no longer come forward to claim their dead. Those who do can't mourn properly because of restrictions on cemetery gatherings.

VIANA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "Seeing families unable to say farewell to loved ones is heartbreaking," says Viana. Health officials believe the coronavirus hasn't yet peaked in Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILSON LIMA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "There could be a very serious problem in the next 10 to 15 days," says Wilson Lima, governor of Amazonas. Dr. Patricia Sicchar is determined to battle on.

SICCHAR: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "We're giving everything we have," she says.

SICCHAR: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "We cry," she says, "then we wake up, dry our tears and get back to work."

Philip Reeves, NPR News.

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