The footage is from Hart Island, which has traditionally been used as a potter’s field by the city. In recent years, inmates from the Rikers Island jail have worked as gravediggers there. Last week, the Intercept reported that inmates were offered $6 an hour ― far higher than standard prison rates ― to dig graves. However, according to Reuters, the city has since hired non-prison laborers for the job.
There are typically 25 burials on the island in any given week, but amid the coronavirus outbreak, there’s been about that many each day. It’s not clear how many of those burials were victims of the pandemic.
As of Thursday morning, 4,426 people had died of the infection in New York City.
“They added two new trenches in case we need them,” Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, told Reuters.
Hospitals and morgues in the city are reaching their capacity for holding the dead while next of kin are contacted and burial arrangements made, The New York Times reported. One contingency plan was for temporary burials in mass graves on Hart Island, not just for the indigent but for those who could be reburied later when arrangements could more easily be made.
“We may well be dealing with temporary burials so we can deal with each family later,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week at a press conference. “Obviously the place we have used historically is Hart Island.”
The drone footage shows at least two rows of coffins stacked atop a second set of coffins being buried in a trench. Part of the trench looks filled in, indicating coffins already underground while part of it remains open, awaiting more.
Reuters also reported that a barge was seen arriving at the island Thursday morning with a refrigerated truck containing about two dozen bodies.
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