Workers in full
Hazmat suits bury rows of coffins in mass grave
By Emily Crane
April 10, 2020 "Information
- Workers wearing hazmat
suits have been spotted burying caskets in a mass grave
on New York's Hart Island - as the number of burials
quadruples amid the coronavirus pandemic and the city's
death roll rises to more than 4,200.
A dozen contracted
laborers were seen digging and burying the caskets -
some of which had names carved on them - on Thursday.
The city has used Hart
Island to bury New Yorkers with no known next of kin or
whose family are unable to arrange a funeral since the
Typically, about 25 bodies
are buried there once a week by low-paid Rikers Island
jail inmates. That number began increasing last month as
the new coronavirus spread rapidly and New York became
the epicenter of the pandemic.
They are now burying about
two dozen bodies a day, five days a week, DailyMail.com
Currently, 4,260 people
have died from coronavirus in the city and more than
80,000 have been infected.
Until now, officials have
remained tight-lipped on whether coronavirus victims
were being buried on Hart
On Thursday, officials
said they had no choice but to bury COVID-19 patients at
the city's cemetery as it deals with the mounting
coronavirus death toll and dwindling morgue space.
Workers wearing hazmat suits
and other protective gear were spotted burying
caskets in a mass grave on New York's Hart Island on
Thursday amid speculation coronavirus victims are
now being buried there
About a dozen workers were
seen digging and burying the caskets - some of which
had names carved into them - on Thursday as at least
one refrigerated truck was brought onto the island
Those dressed in hazmat
suits had to use a ladder to get down into the mass
grave on Thursday as the new caskets were buried.
They were watched by a corrections officer (far
Under a new policy,
the medical examiner's office will keep bodies in
storage for just 14 days before they're buried in
the city's potter's field on Hart Island.
City officials haven't
explained whether the increase in burials at Hart
Island is due to pressure on mortuaries to dispose
of bodies more quickly.
Prisoners from Rikers
Island are usually brought in to dig graves on Hart
Island but the Department of Corrections has since
hired contracted laborers to carry out the work due
to the outbreak.
'For social distancing
and safety reasons, city-sentenced people in custody
are not assisting in burials for the duration of the
pandemic,' DOC Press Secretary Jason Kersten told
DailyMail.com. 'Contracted laborers are performing
this important work under DOC supervision.
'Burial operations at
the city cemetery remain uninterrupted and they
continue to be supervised by DOC, which has been
performing this solemn duty on Hart Island for over
150 years and will continue to do so until the
jurisdiction of Hart Island moves to Parks in
For burial on the
island, the dead are wrapped in body bags and placed
inside pine caskets. The deceased's name is scrawled
in large letters on each casket, which helps if any
body needs to be exhumed later. The caskets are
buried in long narrow trenches excavated by digging
Earlier on Thursday,
the department referred questions about causes of
death to the city's Office of the Chief Medical
Aja Worthy-Davis, an
OCME spokeswoman, said it would take time to collate
individual causes of death from the office's
records, but that it was probable some of the recent
burials include those felled by the coronavirus.
The island may also be
used as a site for temporary interments should
deaths surge past the city's morgue capacity - a
point that has not yet been reached, according to
the DOC and OCME.
'We're all hoping it's
not coming to this,' Kersten said. 'At the same
time, we're prepared if it does.'
OCME can store about
800 to 900 bodies in its buildings and also has room
to store about 4,000 bodies in some 40 refrigerated
trucks it can dispatch around the city to hospitals
that typically have only small morgues.
At least 45 caskets -
some of which had names carved into them -
appeared to be buried in the mass grave on
Thursday morning alone
The caskets were stacked
three on top of each other in the mass grave as
inmates used a digger to help transport the
The inmates wearing
personal protective equipment stacked the
caskets after unloading them from the digger
Mayor Bill DeBlasio said
earlier in the week that officials have explored
the possibility of temporary burials on Hart
Island, a strip of land in Long Island Sound
that has long served as the city's potter's
The city's 2008 Pandemic
Influenza Surge Plan states that Hart Island
would be used as a temporary burial site in the
event the death toll reaches the tens of
thousands and if other storage, such as the
refrigerator trucks parked outside hospitals, is
Normally, about 25
bodies bodies are buried each Thursday on Hart
Island. That number increased to 72 since the
end of March when coronavirus fatalities
increased drastically in the city, according to
the Department of Corrections
The mass grave was dug
last week and stretches along a lengthy portion
of the island
Mayor Bill de
Blasio has so far not confirmed whether burials for
coronavirus victims had been or would take place
there but indicated this week the city might resort
to using the island for temporary burials during the
'We may well be
dealing with temporary burials so we can then deal
with each family later,' he said.
'Obviously the place
we have used historically is Hart Island.'
Those currently buried
on Hart Island include people who haven't been
identified, unclaimed bodies and people whose
families could not afford burial costs.
In the past, the
island has been used as a burial ground for victims
of the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic and the thousands
of people who died of AIDS in the 1980s.
The first AIDS victims
were buried away from other graves on the island in
1985 over fears they would infect the other bodies.
The city's 2008
Pandemic Influenza Surge Plan states that Hart
Island would be used as a temporary burial site in
the event the death toll reaches the tens of
thousands and if other storage, such as the
refrigerator trucks parked outside hospitals, are
It comes after public
officials sparked panic and disgust last week after
claiming some of the dead would be temporarily
buried in public parks across the city.
'Trenches will be dug
for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a
dignified, orderly and temporary manner. But it will
be tough for NYers to take,' Mark Levine, a
Manhattan council representative, tweeted.
The comments caused a
stir, prompting Levine to clarify his remarks,
saying he understood any temporary burials would be
carried out on Hart Island rather than public
'I have spoken to many
folks in City gov't today, and received unequivocal
assurance that there will be *no* burials in NYC
Parks,' he said.
'All have stated
clearly that if temporary interment should be needed
it will be done on Hart Island.'
While the suggestion
of park burials has been dismissed, the question of
what to do with the escalating body count remains
In video footage from 2017,
above inmates are seen burying the dead in prison
uniform rather than the hazmat suits they are now
About a dozen workers were
seen digging the graves on Thursday as at least one
refrigerated truck was brought onto New York City's
Prisoners from Rikers Island
are usually brought over to dig graves on Hart
Island. The DOC says it has stopped inmates from
digging due to the ongoing pandemic
The refrigerated truck that
was brought onto the island is the same as those
currently parked outside hospitals across Manhattan
as part of makeshift morgues set up to deal with the
number of people dying from the coronavirus outbreak
Authorities have not
officially confirmed if coronavirus patients are
currently being buried on Hart Island despite
morgues overflowing across the city and the death
toll continuing to rise
The Mayor's spokeswoman,
Freddi Goldstein, has stressed that the city government
was not considering using local parks as cemeteries.
But she added that Hart
Island, where around one million New Yorkers are already
buried in mass graves, may be used 'for temporary
burials, if the need grows'.
Melinda Hunt, the founder
of the Hart Island Project who produced the drone video
footage, said it appeared to show burials of COVID-19
She said the number of
burials had increased and the process had become more
systematic in recent weeks.
A former Rikers Island
inmate who spent five months working on the island until
February this year has also told of the grim operation
that goes on there.
Vincent Mingalone said in
a voiceover of the video that he worked as a team of
around seven men who formed a supply chain to move the
bodies from a truck to the mass grave every Thursday.
The bodies were stacked
three deep and then covered with sand and soil.
Mingalone said he is now
worried about whether there will actually be enough
inmates willing to do the job.
When he was incarcerated,
he said no one else volunteered to do the work because
they viewed it as 'ghoulish' or 'dirty' and because it
was low paid compared to other prison jobs.
'A lot of people didn't
want that job,' he said.
'Now it's going to be slim
pickings because a lot of inmates have all been released
because of this pandemic.'
About 1,000 inmates have
been released from Rikers Island since the pandemic
of those digging on Thursday were dressed in white,
head-to-toe hazmat suits amid the coronavirus
about 25 bodies bodies are buried each Thursday on
Hart Island. That number increased to 72 since the
end of March when coronavirus fatalities increased
drastically in the city, according to the Department
currently buried on Hart Island include people who
haven't been identified, unclaimed bodies and people
whose families could not afford burial costs
GRISLY HISTORY OF HART ISLAND: THE FINAL RESTING
PLACE FOR OVER ONE MILLION BODIES
sometimes referred to as Hart's Island, has a
grisly history and started being used as a
cemetery during the civil war in 1868 and there
are now more than a million bodies buried there.
Since then it has
been used as a women's psychiatric institution,
a tuberculosis sanatorium, a potter's field
burial site and storage for Cold War
After its first
use as a cemetery in 1868, the island started to
be used as a potter's field for unmarked graves
and accounts from the time describe bodies
piling up on the island after being transported
from hospitals in the city.
By 1958, burials
there exceeded 500,000 and it has been used to
house the bodies of victims of the 1870 yellow
fever epidemic and the 1919 Spanish Flu
During the Spanish
Flu, when more than 500,000 Americans died,
thousands were buried at Hart Island as city
burial sites were overwhelmed.
It is estimated
they would be asked to remove between 50 and
5,000 victims a day during the epidemic.
In more recent
times, thousands of unclaimed AIDs victims have
been buried on the island. The first were buried
in 1985 away from other graves, in the belief
that AIDs could infect dead bodies.
In one 200-foot
trench the remains of 8,904 babies were buried
between 1988 and 1999.
The island in Long
Island Sound has also been the site of a
homeless shelter, a boys' reformatory, a jail
and a drug rehabilitation center.
It returned to
being used as a common grave in the 1980s and is
still used to bury unknown or unclaimed people
with bodies from across New York taken to the
site twice a week and laid to rest by inmates at
Due to a New York
State law from the 1850s and last amended in
2007, a dead person's next of kin on have 48
hours after death to claim a body for burial.
If the body is
unclaimed it becomes legally available as a
medical cadavar to be used for training at
medical schools or mortuary classes.
The island, which
can only be accessed by ferryboat, was sold to
the city in 1868 and became a final resting
place for unclaimed bodies and those used by
In the 19th
century slave owners in the South 'donated' or
sold bodies of dead slaves to medical schools.
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