ANTAKYA, TURKEY — Near the epicenter of Monday’s devastating earthquake, hundreds of bodies lined the pavement of a parking lot outside a hospital in Hatay Province. The makeshift, open-air morgue was a grim reminder of the human toll of the disaster.
More than 20,000 people have died across Turkey and Syria, a number that is expected to rise as search-and-rescue efforts shift to recovery operations.
The Hatay Training and Research Hospital is located in one of the worst-hit areas and was severely damaged, leaving an overwhelmed staff to process hundreds of bodies left on the concrete, many without identification.
Mehmet and Yusuf Ozdemir were among the hundreds of families trying to find the bodies of their brother and his family on Wednesday.
One after another, they opened and closed body bags, discouraged by the countless rows of corpses.
“Relatives of the deceased, like us, don’t want to unzip the body bags and see that horrible sight,” said Mehmet. “This isn’t the way it should be.”
Their brother Ibrahim Ozdemir was killed along with his wife, Emine, and their two daughters, 1-year-old Emine and 3-year-old Necla, when the earthquake trapped the family in the rubble of their apartment building.
After more than an hour of searching, Mehmet and Yusuf finally found the bodies of Ibrahim and his family. They moved them into a vehicle, setting out to a nearby cemetery to bury them.
As they drove, devastation surrounded them. The road to the cemetery, once lined with high-rise apartment buildings, was now filled with broken concrete and endless piles of debris.
Families huddled in tents near the rubble of what used to be their homes. Many of them were Syrian refugees who fled to southern Turkey to escape a brutal civil war, only to find themselves displaced yet again.
At the Fatikli Mosque, mourners prayed over the bodies of the Ozdemir family. Another relative, who is an imam at the mosque, led the burial ceremony.
Outside the mosque, a group of mourners dug four graves side by side, one for each family member.
Some wept quietly as the bodies were lowered into the ground. Relatives sat solemnly on the pavement, observing the scene.
Ibrahim’s aunt Fatma Ozdemir cried out during the burial. Other female mourners said their final goodbyes, wiping dust from the fresh graves into the cold air.
Across Turkey and Syria, rescuers and volunteers are still combing through the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings, bracing for many more burials to come.
Sarah Kerr contributed additional video production.