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Photos: Life in a cemetery after Turkey’s earthquakes


Funeral director Ali Dogru, charged with burying hundreds of victims of Turkey’s massive earthquakes, took his wife and four sons to an old bus near the cemetery in the town of Iskenderun where he works.

Last month’s devastating earthquakes killed more than 54,000 people in Turkey and Syria and left millions homeless. Survivors are sheltering in tents, container homes, hotel resorts, college dormitories and even train cars after hundreds of thousands of buildings collapse and others are left unsafe.

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

In the more than six years he worked at the cemetery, the 46-year-old undertaker buried an average of about five bodies a day. The first night after the earthquake, he buried 12 people. The daily number of incoming bodies began to rise and within 10 days of the earthquake, he had arranged the burials of a total of 1,210 victims.

He can handle 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 offerings for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha.

“As a butcher I saw people bring lambs in their arms to be sacrificed. It hit me really hard when I saw people carrying their children, their partners,” he said.

With so many funerals 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.

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

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

Dogru also helped officials photograph unidentified bodies and take fingerprints, blood and DNA samples. He later led families to their relatives’ graves after they were found through blood tests.


Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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