HomeMiddle EastPhotos: Life in a cemetery after the earthquakes in Turkey

Photos: Life in a cemetery after the earthquakes in Turkey

Tasked with burying hundreds of victims of Turkey’s massive earthquakes, undertaker Ali Dogru brought his wife and four children to live in an old bus at the cemetery where he works in the city of Iskenderun.

The devastating earthquakes of the past month killed more than 54,000 people in Turkey and Syria and left millions homeless. Survivors are sheltering in tents, container houses, hotel complexes, college dormitories and even train cars after hundreds of thousands of buildings collapsed and others were left unsafe.

Concerned for his family’s safety, Dogru moved his family to the cemetery from their damaged apartment shortly after the first earthquake occurred on February 6. Since then, they have been living there in an abandoned bus.

In his more than six years working at the cemetery, the 46-year-old undertaker used to bury around five bodies a day. The first night after the earthquake, he buried 12 people. The daily number of incoming bodies began to skyrocket, and in the 10 days after the quake, he had arranged burials for a total of 1,210 victims.

He can cope with life in a cemetery, he said, but the sheer number of burials in such a short time has left him with deep mental scars.

Dogru, a former butcher, compared the sight of people carrying their dead relatives to the cemetery to people carrying lambs as sacrificial offerings for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

“As a butcher, I used to see people bring lambs in their arms to be slaughtered. He hit me very hard when I saw people carrying their children, their partners,” he said.

With so many burials to arrange, Dogru had to find heavy machinery to dig graves and coordinate with the dozens of imams who came from all over Turkey to help.

“All I wanted was one thing: to work day and night to finish this job. I didn’t want people to come and say the bodies weren’t buried,” she said, adding that there were no mass graves.

Dogru said that he buried some children and parents who died in each other’s arms in the same grave and prevented people from separating them. “I said: ‘Death could not separate this child from the mother or the father. Why would you?’”

Dogru also helped officials photograph unidentified bodies and take fingerprints, blood and DNA samples. Later, she showed the families the graves of their relatives, after they had been found through blood tests.

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