LIMA – The men panted from exertion as they climbed the mist-covered hill carrying a coffin with another body in Peru’s largest cemetery, where the dead from the new coronavirus are being buried.
It was the third death by COVID-19 in the Juárez family: 50-year-old Flavio. The procession was accompanied by bolero songs recorded by Aníbal, 56, who died in early May, days after the virus claimed the life of older brother Marco, 68.
With enormous effort, the five cemetery workers carried Flavio’s body to the grave, where brother Anthony, a soccer referee, was on the verge of tears. “Because of the personality I have, I try to be strong, but it is difficult.”
Multiple deaths in the same family are being registered in Peru, which the World Health Organization has called an epicenter of the pandemic in South America. The Andean nation of about 32 million people has registered 135,905 COVID-19 cases and 3,983 deaths as of Wednesday, and health experts say the contagion seems to be accelerating.
Those killed by the virus are buried on the slopes of the most remote hills of Lima’s sprawling Virgen de Lourdes cemetery - popularly known as Nueva Esperanza cemetery for the neighborhood in Villa María del Triunfo where it is located. The Peruvians - mainly of Andean or Amazonian descent - bury their loved ones here at a cost of about $870. Some burials are solitary because of the pandemic, but others bring together up to a couple dozen mourners who seldom respect social distancing.
About 100 meters away from the Juárez’s burial, a sad harp played Andean music as Gregoria Zumaeta, 44, buried her two older brothers: Jorge, 50, and Miguel, 54. The homemaker cried and drank a beer in honor of the two men who were “like my parents when I was a child.”
“They no longer suffer,” said Gregoria, recalling the two construction workers who along with thousands of Peruvians migrated from the Andes and Amazon region in the 1980s during the economic crisis and brutal war against Shining Path guerrillas.
In another part of the cemetery, security guard Orlando Huallpatuero buried his mother Damiana Roque, 87, and brother Rómulo, 53. They died two days apart.
“I’ve already lost two, no more,” Orlando said after placing candles next to the crosses on their graves.