Deaths force Vegas-area mortuaries to use storage trailers

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Funeral homes and the county coroner in Las Vegas are preparing for a post-holiday spike in coronavirus deaths by adding storage space — including refrigerated trailers with special shelving — for corpses.

Michael Murphy, a consultant serving as interim Clark County coroner, said southern Nevada was fortunate in procuring the portable metal containers early in the pandemic because jurisdictions throughout the country are now competing for ways to store bodies awaiting burial or cremation.

“If you don’t get them for your community, they are going to another community,” Murphy said. “They’re getting hard to come by.”

From El Paso, Texas, to Chicago and Brooklyn, New York., medical examiners and coroners have relied on refrigerated trailers for storage as morgues become overcrowded.

California has deployed 78 mobile morgues and leased additional refrigerated semi-trailers in anticipation of a death surge.

Nevada health officials reported more deaths last week than any week since March, and officials anticipate a spike in cases and deaths in coming weeks, following Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s gatherings.

Murphy said the coroner’s office distributed nine storage containers ranging in length from 20 feet to 40 feet to funeral homes and had three more on the way.

In case of a surge, one container was left in the coroner’s office parking lot in mid-December. It’s not being used but could add space for up to 60 bodies in addition to the 100 inside the morgue.

“This is designed specifically for the emergency process, not necessarily for the day-to-day unless we have to use it,” Murphy said.

The metal containers have had several uses since April. During the hot summer, Clark County used them to keep swab kits cold at casino parking lot test sites. When the weather cooled and mortuaries started filling, they were moved to funeral homes.

At Kraft-Sussman Funeral and Cremation Services, Director Laura Sussman said trailer temperatures are kept under 40 degrees like the funeral home’s permanent morgue. The additional capacity helps maintain decorum by keeping adequate distance between bodies, she said.