Vaults unearthed

Floodwaters unearthed vaults from the cemetery at New Branch Baptist Church between U.S. Highways 301 and 178.

Regional floods are seeping into cemeteries and affecting gravesites in ways unimaginable.

Several caskets and vaulted caskets are floating above ground, but the Orangeburg County Coroner's Office is surveying cemeteries and taking appropriate action.

Orangeburg County Coroner Samuetta Marshall said her office didn't recover any floating caskets on Monday, but recovered four on Sunday in the eastern portion of the county, she said.

"What we have been doing at the coroner's office is recovering caskets that were floating and making very detailed documentation where each casket was and who it is and all of that," Marshall said.

"We are asking families to be patient. We cannot reinter anyone until the water table goes down," Marshall said.

"This is a stressful situation for these families," she said, "we're sorry this happened; this was an act of God."

State laws do not require that caskets be buried in vaults, Marshall explained.

"Cemeteries have their own rules," Marshall said, explaining the requirements about vaulted caskets vary from cemetery to cemetery.

Marshall said there are several instances within Orangeburg County where flood waters are causing vaulted caskets to rise above the surface.

In cases of vaults rising, Marshall said her office will not remove the vaults or the caskets from the vaults.

She said the individual funeral homes, which assisted with the burial of such vaults, will handle the reinterment after they are notified of the floating vaults.

Marshall said vaults and caskets are rising to the surface of the ground because of water pressure and saturation underground.

She explained that when the weight of the water pushes against the air-tight sealed casket, then the water eventually presses to the point where the only option is for the vault or non-vaulted casket to rise.

Marshall said the Orangeburg County Coroner's Office and Emergency Management Services crews are surveying cemeteries throughout the county looking for floating caskets and vaults.

She said the county's funeral homes are aware of the problem.

Marshall, who also works as a funeral director, said, "The loss of a loved one is always difficult. When the loved one is interred, it's part of the grief process."

She said that an individual whose loved one was interred and whose gravesite has been disturbed will feel emotions that "reopen wounds."

Marshall said her office is sensitive to the needs of family's affected by the floodwaters causing their loved ones' caskets to rise.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5545 Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD



Lee Harter has been editor of The Times and Democrat since 1981

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