Funeral home directors contend with challenges stemming from Irma

The tasks of funeral home directors vary from preparing bodies, arranging services and writing obituaries. But in a major hurricane, when power is sparse, all of that can change.

Karl Flagg of Flagg-Serenity Memorial Chapel said there was no need to use the mortuary cooler for Hurricane Irma as his service had only one body that was already embalmed.

Flagg’s phone service and Internet were down, though he had calls forwarded to his cellphone. The only change Flagg said he would consider making is switching from a portable generator to a permanent generator for the mortuary cooler.

“Funeral homes are meant to be 24/7 operations,” Flagg said. “We can’t have our excellence compromised because of a storm.”

Flagg said he considered the job as a mortician essential to help those affected by the storm.

“People are the most vulnerable when they’re going through bereavement, especially during a storm,” Flagg said. “We have not skipped a day or missed a beat.”

There are several inconveniences of a hurricane that add to a difficult situation for families.

With the Internet and power down, death certificates, which are done online, take much longer and bodies can’t be cremated.

Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home was running off a generator, but electricity returned late Wednesday.

Funeral Director Steve Overturf said it was difficult to reach out-of-town families, who may lack power or transportation. As an example of the delays, Overturf had to schedule a funeral this Saturday for a man who died last week.

“Bodies get backed up and you can’t go through normal processes,” Overturf said. “Everything gets delayed until the storm is done.”

During Hurricane Matthew, Johnson-Overturf received three calls about deaths. For Hurricane Irma, Overturf said, they received none.

“Death knows no boundaries,” Overturf said. “It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing.”