Men load dead bodies onto a truck after removing them from the rubble of a destroyed house in the Turkish city of Nurdagi on February 7, 2023.
Ankara/Damascus – The cemetery in the Turkish town of Nurdagi near the border with Syria will soon have no more room for the dead. Freshly dug graves are marked by bare headstones, on which only the remains of clothing hang, so that the as yet nameless victims can possibly be identified by their loved ones. Outside the cemetery, dozens of dead bodies are lying on the backs of trucks awaiting burial, The Guardian reported in a report.
Photo gallery: Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria
you namelessé” /> you namelessé” />
Five imams have arrived at the Nurdag cemetery, leading an endless series of mass burials, often burying up to ten people at a time. Officials had to order coffins from other cities and even from Istanbul to provide a final resting place for the huge number of dead that needed to be taken care of.
Five days after two strong earthquakes in southern Turkey, representing the worst disaster in several generations, the death toll has already climbed to over 20,000, and cities in southern Turkey and northern Syria, including Nurdagi, are a picture of destruction of apocalyptic proportions.
” Forty percent of the people who lived here are probably dead,” says Sadik Güneş, one of the imams in Nurdagi, which has 40,000 residents. The house was next to a mosque that collapsed, so prayers and ceremonies, like in many other places in southern Turkey, have to take place outside.
“I've already lost track of how many dead we've buried since Monday,” says Güneş. “We have already expanded the cemetery, but there are still dead people under the rubble. We will bury them too, as soon as we manage to extricate them. We even bury them at night, with the help of the locals who help us,” he adds.
While waiting for officials and doctors to examine the dead, the inhabitants of some cities had to start piling up a large number of dead bodies, for example in stadiums or parking lots, to give relatives a chance to identify loved ones and enable them to obtain death certificates.
In the town of Kahramanmaraş, rescuers continue to search the rubble and often manage to find only body parts. For example, one rescue worker described how she tried to identify the victim by the hand she found and showed it to the survivors in the hope that someone might recognize the nail polish and thus allow the victim to be named.
“I used to live here,” Sadi Uçar shows the damaged house. “It was a new apartment. We bought two apartments a few weeks ago. One for my family and children, the other for my father and mother. Father and mother lived only two houses from here. They were supposed to move to a higher floor this week. A few days ago I he hung curtains with his mother. After the earthquake, their house collapsed,” he explains. “I searched the rubble with my bare hands and pulled out my mother and father. And then I buried them,” he says.
They had to expand the cemetery by two large mass graves near the city of Afrin in northeastern Syria. In the southern Turkish city of Osmaniye, the cemetery is already full, and in the suburb of Kahramanmaraş, near the epicenter of the earthquake, a makeshift cemetery had to accommodate so many bodies that even pieces of concrete or wooden formwork found in the rubble serve as tombstones.
In the Syrian city of Jindiras, which hosts many people displaced by the decade-long civil war, even people who survived bombings and chemical weapons attacks had to fight for their lives by escaping from shaking buildings.
When they struck early Monday morning the first tremors, Abu Majid Shaar woke up by hitting his head against the wall because of the shaking floor. At that moment he took as many children as he could find and ran down the stairs into the street. “There were people I couldn't reach,” he says. “Only two people from the extended family survived. We lost a lot of loved ones,” he adds.
The raid in Djindiras then evoked painful memories in the Syrian of how years ago he had to flee with his family from Ghouta to the suburbs of Damascus, when the Syrian air force started bombing it.
“I remembered how the whole city was destroyed and now the situation is the same, which reminded me of my seven brothers who died when the house collapsed after the airstrike. Now that in Djindiras, I'm searching the rubble for another brother and other family members, my heart is breaking,” he says.