RIO DE JANEIRO –
From Amazon From the city of Manaus to the seemingly endless stretch of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the newly dug graves have been filled quickly for weeks with the bodies of Brazilians killed by COVID-19.
Death from corona virus hit several cities violently starting last month so officials were not prepared to deal with a buildup of bodies even though local authorities imposed measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro condemned the closure of business because it was more dangerous than the virus itself – and the country’s first closure was not ordered until this week, when there were already more than 7,000 deaths.
As the number of casualties increased, the Associated Press photographers and video reporters spread throughout the largest and most populous country in Latin America to capture the suffering suffered by ordinary Brazilians – in the cemetery, in hospitals and in prisons with rioting inmates, and at religious ceremonies and in the homes of grieving relatives.
They spend days passing through the narrow alleys of Brazil’s slums, or favelas, where more than 11 million of the country’s 211 million people live in cramped conditions that experts fear could be destroyed by a virus outbreak.
In one Rio favela, 31-year-old manicurist Leticia Machado and her husband, who do odd jobs, have never worked because of business restrictions imposed in the city. They rely on food donations from neighbors and the nearest cultural center to feed their seven children.
City hospitals are close to capacity and health workers complain that they do not have enough essential drugs to treat patients. Some workers had to buy their own protective equipment at the public hospital where 56-year-old mother Taina dos Santos worked as a nurse’s assistant – until she died of the corona virus late last month.
When the gravediggers wearing white hooded suits stood holding their shovels at the cemetery on the hillside, dos Santos bid farewell to his mother’s coffin.
“He gave everything for his work to the end,” dos Santos said.
In Sao Paulo, an AP photographer captured images a month ago from hundreds of newly excavated grave sites that Bolsonaro called “fake news” and “sensationalism.” When the photographer visited again last week, the graves were filled with dozens of new graves.
Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly called COVID-19 “a little cold” and refused to wear a mask at his public events, has been criticized by protesters who leaned out of their apartment windows to bang on pots and pans. He is depicted on graffiti on Rio’s wall wearing a mask with the word “coward” on it, covering his eyes.
Bolsonaro faced the anger of a coronavirus, Valter Azevedo Bonfim, whose mother died at Rio’s hospital after he took her there because he suffered from what he believed to be a symptom of the virus.
“Look at how many hearses are gone, and that person says it’s a small cold!” he said outside the hospital. “He went and talked on TV, told people to go to the street. How can we take to the streets? My mother went to the street and I buried it! ”
In Manaus, a city of 2.2 million Amazon region, the surge in deaths was so extreme that the trenches for public graves were dug in one grave and coffins were piled on top of one another. Some people who want the burial of loved ones prefer cremation.
In the poor working class environment of Manaus, 86-year-old Raimundo Costa do Nascimento died at his home surrounded by family members and took pictures with eight of them while he lay dead in bed.
They have to wait 10 hours for their body to be taken.
Associated Press video producer Diarlei Rodrigues reported this story in Rio de Janeiro and AP writer Alan Clendenning reported from Phoenix. AP video journalists Mario Lobão and Yesica Fisch and photographer Leo Correa in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.