The victims of Covid-19 in New York have been buried in mass graves as the city struggles to cope with the coronavirus.
Shocking images taken from a drone show workers using ladders to climb into a huge pit on Hart Island, off the Bronx.
The area has been used for mass burials for those who have no next-of-kin, or whose families can’t afford funerals, for the past 150 years.
Typically, some 25 bodies are interred each week by low-paid jail inmates working on the island, which is accessible only by boat.
That number began increasing in March as the new coronavirus spread rapidly, making New York the epicentre of the global pandemic.
New York state now has more coronavirus cases than any other country outside the US, after a jump of 10,000 on Thursday to nearly 160,000 put it ahead of Spain and Italy.
The state’s death toll is similar to the UK’s, with more than 7,000 fatalities among a US-wide number of more than 16,000.
For context, New York state’s population is just under a third of that of the UK at about 20 million.
There are about two dozen bodies a day, five days a week buried on the island, said Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, which oversees the burials.
Before burial, 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 should a body need to be disinterred later.
They are buried in long narrow trenches excavated by digging machines.
“They added two new trenches in case we need them,” Mr Kersten said.
To help with the surge contract laborers have been hired, he said.
“For social distancing and safety reasons, city-sentenced people in custody are not assisting in burials for the duration of the pandemic,” Mr Kersten said.
A barge could be seen arriving at the island on Thursday morning with a refrigerated truck aboard containing about two dozen bodies.
The department referred questions about causes of death to the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME).
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, Mr Kersten said.
U.S. deaths due to coronavirus topped 16,400 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, although there are signs the outbreak might be nearing a peak.
U.S. officials warned Americans to expect alarming numbers of coronavirus deaths this week, even as there was evidence that the number of new infections was flattening in New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.