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Mass Graves Go Unvisited, For Now

DELMAS, Haiti - In the days following last month's earthquake, people would visit the mass grave sites scattered throughout the country to look for their loved ones.

On Wednesday, however, there was not one person at a mass grave in this Port-au-Prince suburb, where residents said more than 1,000 bodies were buried in the past month.

The most recent visitor came by in the middle of the night, and then only to drop off a body, said Dieunord Liphaite, 48, who lives across the street.

"In the first few days, there were people coming in to see if their family members were here," Liphaite said. "No more."

According to the Associated Press, the Haitian government has put the death toll from the earthquake Jan. 12 at 230,000 and indicated that tens of thousands are buried in mass graves.

Relatives and friends of the deceased would like to visit their loved ones, said Edzer Paul, a Methodist pastor. Catholics here, like elsewhere, place great importance on visiting the grave sites, he said.

The reason they do not come is because no one knows for sure where their loved ones are buried, he said. Also, survivors have other things on their minds.

"In the situation we're in right now, the families' priority would not be to buy flowers and place them on graves," Paul said. "They have to find ways to survive."

Protestants in Haiti are generally more understanding of the mass graves, he said.

"We believe that everything should have been done while the person was living. Once you die, you are dust," he said.

About half of Haiti's 9 million people practice some form of voodoo, a religion with roots in Africa that has been mingled with Christian beliefs.

Voodoo leaders have met with Prime Minister Rene Preval to complain that the mass graves can be seen as a desecration in a country where many believe in zombies.

Anthony Pascal, a TV host who practices voodoo, said practitioners of his religion would normally say prayers and sing songs at a person's grave to ensure that person's spirit found its way to endure among the living.

Though the mass graves complicated that effort, Pascal said, people have been saying the prayers and singing the songs around the country to collectively show their loved ones' spirits the way.

"The government did something in a crisis, and we can do something in a crisis," Pascal said.

Delmas Mayor Wilson Jeudy said his office may put up a sign or marker near the two government-approved mass graves in his city. No plans have been made.

"We'll probably pick a date and have a prayer or a Mass to make them significant," Jeudy said.

Off a busy street in Delmas, a small cemetery that had about half an acre of space remaining has been filled with hundreds of bodies. Three-foot-high dirt piles mark the site of each mass grave, each holding more than 200 bodies, neighbors said.

Gardien Molme, 36, who lives nearby, said it is odd to have the mass graves in his neighborhood. He doesn't like that people come by in the middle of the night to drop off bodies, but he said it needs to be done.

"It could've been one of us who died and had to be buried like this," he said. "It's God's will."

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