Turkey earthquake: Satellite images reveal extent of mass graves at rural cemetery | World News


We knew the name of the village with the location pinpointed on our mobile phones, but we did not need a map to find a place called Kapicam.

Instead, we simply followed the traffic.

This unassuming community is located just south of the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, and hosts a couple of shops, a guest house and a cemetery where local residents are laid to rest.

But the track to the cemetery was jammed with ambulances and private cars and vans belonging to the regional municipality.

Each vehicle contained dead bodies – some wrapped in thick black plastic – others contained in bright green boxes, stacked inside.

Satellite image taken on 8 February shows a large convoy of vehicles arriving at the cemetery grounds. Pic: Maxar

This peaceful spot, nestled amidst the pine trees, had been turned into a factory for processing the dead – and the size of the operation was staggering.

With the death toll from two powerful earthquakes last month in Turkey now standing at approximately 45,000, many of those who lost their lives will be buried here in Kapicam.

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The original plot, with a small number of white tomb stones, had been engulfed by recent activity.

Industrial excavators were digging trenches in every section of the cemetery’s hillside location – and in the distance, we saw a long row of tents erected on the top of the hill.

These tents form something of a reception centre for the sad procession of vehicles edging their way into the cemetery.

Tents being erected at the grave site are seen in a satellite image from 11th February. Pic - Planet Labs PBC
Tents being erected at the grave site are seen in a satellite image from 11 February. Pic: Maxar

Groups of volunteers and local officials waited outside each pavilion, retrieving the bodies and taking them inside.

The dead were washed and wrapped in clean linen – as religious ritual requires – and placed in wooden containers which were stacked up outside. Then, they were carried off to newly-dug graves.

We saw hundreds of grief-stricken relatives on the site, accompanying their loved ones as they were placed at the bottom of freshly prepared trenches.

The body of each victim is marked with a plain wooden board with a simple grave marker, with the name of the individual written in black ink.

In three days a large number of graves have been dug at the cemetery site seen in this satellite image from the 11th February. Pic - Planet Labs PBC
In three days a large number of graves have been dug at the cemetery site. Pic: Maxar, 11 February
Lines of trenches with some measuring almost 100 metres were dug at the rural site. Pic - Maxar
Lines of trenches with some measuring almost 100 metres have been dug at the rural site. Pic: Maxar

“I came here because my neighbours died in the rubble,” said a man called Mustafa who stopped to have a word with us.

“How many died,” I asked.

“I think, 28, yes 28 (of my neighbours),” he said.

“Do you know where they have been buried?” I asked.

“No, I don’t. But I needed to come here anyway.”

Many bodies at Kapicam have not been identified. The simple wooden memorials have been given numbers, scrawled in black ink, but there is nothing else to commemorate the victims’ time on earth.

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Much is now known about the scale of the disaster in Turkey. For example, 160,000 buildings containing 520,000 apartments have collapsed or were severely damaged.

But the authorities have been unable – or unwilling – to provide an estimate of the number of people still missing. Most think that number will run into the tens of thousands.

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Turkey’s ‘Disaster and Emergency Management Authority’ (AFAD) says that it is recording victims’ fingerprints and taking DNA samples – but the country lacks a clear procedure enabling loved ones to trace missing relatives.

The fate of Syrian refugees missing in the disaster is particularly pronounced for Turkey as it currently hosts millions of Syrians sheltering from civil war. Many of those refugees consumed in the rubble may never be identified.

Satellite pictures obtained by Sky News reveal how Kapicam’s rural cemetery has grown dramatically in just a few days. Yet it is only one of many sites in Turkey that now serve as makeshift resting places for those who were killed in the earthquakes.

Four weeks after the disaster, the authorities cannot say how many people were killed. However, one afternoon in this sorrowful spot says much about the scale of the tragedy.

Additional reporting by Adam Parker, OSINT editor, and Michael Greenfield, international producer


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