'I quickly sank in': Iqaluit residents struggle with mud, water at Apex cemetery

'I dread going over because if my mother's grave is either flooded or muddy or anything of that state, I will feel guilty for having her buried over there,' said Kalapik Korgak.

People sinking in the mud while funeral director says he 'won't give up' pumping out water

After a rainfall in August, some graves at Iqaluit's Apex cemetery are completely underwater. ((Angela Hill/CBC))

Iqaluit's cemetery in Apex has had water and drainage issues since it opened three years ago, but this summer's rain is making the flooding worse than ever.

The stories are piling up on Facebook groups; people tell of soaked feet and sinking up to their ankles and knees in mud.

I quickly sank in. It was scary.- Leonie Kilabuk , resident of Iqaluit

Leonie Kilabuk and her son were at the cemetery for the burial of her aunt.

Leonie Kilabuk after trying to get her son out of the mud during the burial of her aunt. (Leonie Kilabuk/Facebook)

"He tripped and started sinking in. I panicked for a bit," she said.

Kilabuk said she grabbed her son and pulled him out, getting muddy above her knees.

"I quickly sank in. It was scary," said Kilabuk.

"There shouldn't be any graves there. They shouldn't be putting any more bodies there."

After the recent rainfall last week, some of the grave sites are completely underwater.

This has made it difficult for Kalapik Korgak to go see her mother's grave.

You want your loved ones to rest, but then again, they're not really resting so to speak.- Kalapik Korgak, resident of Iqaluit

"I dread going over because if my mother's grave is either flooded or muddy or anything of that state, I will feel guilty for having her buried over there," Korgak said.

"It is heartbreaking. Just the fact that you want your loved ones to rest, but then again, they're not really resting so to speak."

Funeral director says he's trying

Iqaluit's only funeral director, Jaffar Gebara, is trying to keep the water under control, going out with a generator and pump after every major rainfall.

Gebara said the amount of rainfall this year as been unusual.

"It's the most this site has ever seen in the three years we've been operating here. It's a unique challenge for us," he said.

Iqaluit funeral Jaffar Gebara works to pump water out of the cemetery after a rainfall in August. (Angela Hill/CBC)

An emailed statement from the city said "the site was known to experience saturated conditions" throughout the year, and that was taken into consideration when selecting the site in 2013. 

"The operational plan for the maintenance of the site was developed with this in mind," said the city.

The Iqaluit Cemetery Standard Operating Procedures document references the need to pump out grave sites before burial, but doesn't address flooding and water covering the graves.

Water and mud has made visiting graves extremely difficult for some residents in Iqaluit (Angela Hill/CBC)

Gebara said that he purchased generators and pumps to deal with the issue. 

"I'm trying. I've been going down this week to try and pump out water but it just keeps raining," Gebara said on Aug. 24.

Council says it's time to look at cemetery issues

Concerns of the state of the cemetery have reached the ears of city council.

The Apex cemetery was the only item on the agenda at the engineering and public works committee meeting this week.

I will keep trying. I won't give up.- Jaffar Gebara, funeral director 

"We were hearing some issues and concerns from the community members and I think it was time to take a look at how things are going at the cemetery," said Coun. Joanasie Akumalik, the committee's chair.

"I'm hoping we are going to take some corrective measures to satisfy and fulfil our responsibility as a municipality."

While the council starts its analysis, Gebara will continue pumping.

"I don't want to stop doing this. I want to learn to tackle the situation and do better," he said. "I will keep trying. I won't give up."

In the meantime Korgak says she will likely wait until freeze up, when the ground is solid and she feels safe, before returning to visit her mother's grave.


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