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Spiraling criminal violence causes Ecuador morgue to overflow

People wait outside of the Criminalistic and Forensic Science Laboratory in Guayaquil, Ecuador, June 13, 2024.
People wait outside of the Criminalistic and Forensic Science Laboratory in Guayaquil, Ecuador, June 13, 2024.

Spiraling criminal violence in one of Ecuador's most dangerous cities caused a buildup of unidentified and unclaimed bodies that exceeded the capacity of Guayaquil's main morgue, officials confirmed Thursday.

The government of Guayas, the province of which Guayaquil is the capital, said Thursday afternoon in a statement that "the problem that has arisen in recent days in the morgue" has been resolved, its first acknowledgment the problem existed in the first place.

Local television and media reports had said about 200 bodies in excess of the Forensic Medicine Service morgue's capacity had accumulated and a refrigeration unit used to store them had failed, causing nearby residents to complain of foul odors.

Ecuadorian media outlets Ecuavisa and Teleamazonas broadcast images taken with drones showing morgue workers removing bodies from a refrigerated container and spraying the container's entrance with a product the outlets said was meant to neutralize the putrid liquids seeping out of it.

Both the Forensic Medicine Service and the Ministry of Health did not respond to requests for information from The Associated Press made Wednesday.

The government statement did not say how many bodies were involved but said a malfunctioning refrigerated unit where bodies are kept when the morgue is full had been repaired.

During the past week, forensic services collected 40 bodies that were victims of violence in a city that in 2023 recorded a total of 3,762 violent deaths, according to police figures. Most of the deaths are the result of clashes between gangs fighting over territory and drug distribution routes, which has created unprecedented levels of violence in this port city of 2.72 million inhabitants.

The former head of forensic medicine at the Guayaquil morgue, Juan Montenegro, told the AP that the "bodies are stored in containers without taking into account their cooling capacity," meaning the decomposition process is accelerated and bad odors spread and putrid liquids seep untreated into pipes.

"I don't understand why they haven't sent the bodies to a mass grave in a timely manner, donated them to the universities, or why they haven't handed them over to the relatives, who are on the street demanding the bodies," he said.