CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The gate to a Charleston cemetery where flooding popped open grave vaults and exposed caskets was found locked Tuesday morning, then reopened on Tuesday afternoon.
But that did not stop family members whose loved ones are buried in Monrovia Cemetery from slipping through an opening to check on the graves.
Charleston Police say the manager of the cemetery locked the gate for safety reasons.
“It’s unexplainable," Teaka Hines, whose mother is buried at the cemetery, said. "I can’t really, the people who have loved ones on that side, I just feel my heart goes out to them.”
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard and a representative from DHEC began meeting with people whose loved ones are buried at the cemetery when the gates were opened. Gilliard says he has formally requested that the South Carolina department of Labor, License and Regulation come to Charleston to investigate the issue of caskets rising to the surface.
“This here is uncalled for and it’s an insult to the State of South Carolina," Gilliard said. "It should be a double insult to the City of Charleston.”
The flooding from heavy rains over the past week uprooted vaults and exposed ten caskets at the cemetery.
Folks who found their loved ones grave sites intact said they were pleased but at the same time were angry about the exposed caskets and the popped open vaults.
Members of the Charleston Gullah Society, which works to preserve old African-American cemeteries and burial grounds, inspected the damaged area of the cemetery Tuesday morning and said the graves and vaults need to be put back where they belong and something needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.
“It’s just further evidence of how much neglect these burial grounds have suffered over the many years and it’s about time that we begin to pay attention to them,” Gullah Society spokesman Dr. Ade Ofunniyin said.
But society members say repairs will take time.
“It’s gonna take repair work, not just pumping the water out, so it’s not gonna be an overnight thing," Gullah Society member Grant Mishoe said.
“It is not the graveyard’s responsibility to fix the problem, it’s the responsibility of the funeral homes that buried the loved ones,” Cemetery board member Bryan McNeal said on Sunday.
But Tyrone Middleton, whose loved one is buried in the flooded part of the cemetery says he wants answers.
“We come out here, visit our loved ones and this is what we get,” Middleton said. “Why, why is it like this, what’s gonna be, how they’re gonna correct this?”
Leisa Kudelka, spokesperson for the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said the cemetery’s owner needs to secure the caskets and alert the county coroner. She also said the cemetery needs to reinter the caskets when the water recedes.