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Drone Captures Apparent Mass Grave Site For Pandemic Victims In New York City As Morgues Face Overcrowding

CBS This Morning/YouTube

The somber reality of the pandemic hitting New York city was no more evident than the images circulating of bodies being buried in mass graves.

Recent drone footage taken from Hart Island—which was used in the past as a mass burial site—showed workers burying about two dozen caskets in trenches.


Located in northeastern Bronx in New York city, Hart Island has a grim history serving many functions, including as a Union Civil War prison camp, psychiatric institution, drug rehabilitation center and as a tuberculosis sanatorium.

Throughout much of the 19th century, the island was used as a mass burial site for bodies with no known next of kin or for families unable to arrange for funeral services as well as victims of disease.

Burials on the island have now increased as the death toll continues to mount and unclaimed bodies have been at the city's morgues for about two weeks.

The drone footage shows two rows of pinewood caskets being stacked on top of another row in a partially-covered trench, indicating there are more caskets already buried underneath.

You can see the aerial footage of the mass grave site in the CBS News clip below.

Images show mass burials at NYC public cemetery youtu.be

The island was utilized as the city's potter's field run by New York City Department of Corrections, but jurisdiction transferred over to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in 2019.

In recent years, jail inmates were sent from Riker's Island to work as gravediggers on the island reportedly for $6 an hour—well above standard prison rates.

Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, told Reuters they added "two new trenches in case we need them" to accommodate the rising death toll.

Inmates working on the island had been burying about 25 bodies on average a week, but that amount rose to the same number of bodies per day in March as the aggressive viral pandemic began rapidly spreading.

In an effort to respect social distancing guidelines, Kersten said:

"City-sentenced people in custody are not assisting in burials for the duration of the pandemic."

Contract laborers have now been hired by the city to bury the dead.

According to the Huffington Post, it was unclear whether the 25 burials a day on the island were all for pandemic-related victims.

As of Sunday, the number of fatalities from the global pandemic in the Empire State was 9,385.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a daily press briefing in Albany:

"These lives lost are people who came in at that height hospitalization period and we're losing them."

The Governor went on to compare the tragic losses to 9/11.

"I believe 9/11 was the worst situation that I was going to deal with in my lifetime."
"So in terms of lives lost this situation should exceed 9/11 is still beyond my capacity to fully appreciate, to tell you the truth."

Earlier this week, at a press conference at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mayor Bill de Blasio referenced Hart Island as a contingency plan for temporary burials at the historical mass burial site.

"We may well be dealing with temporary burials so we can deal with each family later. Obviously the place we have used historically is Hart Island."

There are over one million bodies interred on Hart Island, with the first known being 20 Union Army soldiers who died during the American Civil War.