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Hillside Cemetery casket exposed, vaults floated

Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 10:26 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Flooded graves and vaults floating up, that’s what can be seen at the Hillside Cemetery in Panama City after Wednesday night’s severe flooding.

“We only have one here in this grave sight where the casket is exposed, but we have about 14 others where the vault itself is actually floating in the dirt,” community activist Tony Bostick said.

An exposed casket is against the law. The exposed casket could be seen here Friday afternoon.

“Barely. There was just barely an opening there where the rain had floated it and those happen once in a while but you get in there and address it and take care of it,” Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said.

Brudnicki said he came to the cemetery Thursday night with a medical examiner to assess the situation. He said to cover the exposed grave with a tarp overnight until the problem could be taken care of.

“The mayor called, made me aware of it and he and I and the city manager immediately got on task in order to rectify the problem,” Russell Allan Wright Mortuary owner Russel Wright Sr. said.

A problem activists wanted addressed Thursday night.

“I even suggested to have someone come out, take the lid vault off, recover the casket, take it to the funeral home, clean it up, and then bring it back and rebury it,” said Bostick.

“You cannot, without having a family’s permission, you cannot just pull a casket out of the ground and so you have to know the rules and the laws,” said Brudnicki.

The Russel Wright Mortuary sent a team to drain the water and reseal the grave Friday afternoon.

“Is it going to happen again? We can’t promise that because if it rains like it has, it may happen,” said Wright.

A problem that activists are calling on the city to do what they say is the right thing.

Brudnicki said the city helped the private individuals of the cemetery get FEMA money to repair the cemetery’s fences after Hurricane Michael, but it is not the city’s responsibility.

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