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Cemeteries as Major Disaster Response Protocol

Apparently, some of the people displaced by the devastating floods in Jakarta have found shelter in a cemetery located in the center of the city.

“For several hundred evacuees,” reports The New York Times, “the cemetery offered a refuge, with public toilets and working water pumps for washing. An informal community has emerged there, with women cooking donated food at a communal fire under a big blue tarpaulin.”

Says one evacuee, “We are afraid to sleep in the cemetery. But we have no other place to go. We are sleeping among the dead.”

But “during the day, the cemetery is now a lively place, as displaced people from surrounding neighborhoods come to wash at its pumps and use its outdoor toilets.”

Cemeteries, planned on high ground, sacred spaces normally detached from the rest of the city, becoming critical centers in post-disaster relief and humanitarian aid.

City of the Dead

Which reminds us of a Cairene cemetery, pictured above. Known to Westerners as the City of the Dead, it is home to thousands of refugees from Cairo's housing shortage, a “necropolis turned metropolis”, where tombs and mausoleums have been converted to house families, schools, and small business. There is even the occasional wedding parties.

City of the Dead

City of the Dead

City of the Dead

The last four photos are by Ed Kashi, whose amazing though unfortunately downsized photos of the City of the Dead first appeared in the Winter '96 issue of Atlas Magazine, with a brief essay by Julie Winokur.
  • Anonymous
  • February 7, 2007 at 9:38:00 AM CST
  • In 1970, a landslide in Peru destroyed the town of Yungay. Only the cemetery -- and people who took refuge there -- survived. It was the highest ground. The cemetery is now a memorial to the dead.

  • Alexander Trevi
  • February 8, 2007 at 12:36:00 AM CST
  • Beck: Thanks for the info about Yungay. I wasn't aware of it before, but now that I do and have done the customary Google search, I find some of the before and after photos of the city quite startling, such as the ones from here.

    Meanwhile, here are some more photos of the City of Dead. Seventy-nine more photos, to be exact.

  • Bryan Finoki
  • February 8, 2007 at 1:36:00 PM CST
  • I've been to the city of the dead. amazing time and place. unbelievably colorful, solemn, quiet, somewhat isolated, and with its own culture from what i could tell. though, i certainly wasnt very welcome, and in fact nearly got followed and chased out of most of the vicinity, until i managed to strike up a football game with some kids. nevertheless, it was amazing to see peeople living by their dead that way - a society for honoring them as prominently as any other thing. housing them that way, in beautiful colored monuments. i have pictures somewhere.
    and i'd go back any time and wander around some more.
    though - i was definitely out of place and perhaps pretty inconsiderate. i felt like i was invading the community's privacy, treading on sacred ground.
    anyway, was amazing. yup.

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