Green metal coffins were lined up 10 at a time under a shelter at Gaziantep’s main cemetery on Wednesday for an imam to bless victims of Turkey’s devastating earthquake before their hurried burial.
While rescuers searched rubble for survivors and aftershocks rattled Gaziantep, Yesilkent Cemetery overflowed with grieving relatives who had come from across the region.
The magnitude 7.8 quake and subsequent aftershocks killed more than 11,200 people and Gaziantep was near the epicentre.
Gaziantep mayor Fatma Sahin has made an appeal for more Muslim preachers to come forward to help with funerals at cemeteries.
Hundreds of men formed lines in front of the coffins at Yesilkent as the imam spoke into a headset microphone, stopping in front of each victim to give a blessing.
Women formed their own congregation. Some wailed uncontrollably and one woman fainted and was carried away.
Couple linked in death
Women from Besni, a district about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Gaziantep, comforted Hatice, who lost her 17-year-old daughter Ruveyda. Her son, Serhat, 21, was still missing under the rubble.
The family lived on the sixth floor of an apartment block. Hatice, who gave only one name, said that when the quake struck she grabbed her eight-year-old daughter.
But the building was flattened by the tremor. Their escape was one miracle.
Ruveyda initially said she “felt fine”, the mother told AFP.
Hours later, Ruveyda fell ill and quickly died in hospital from suspected injuries to internal organs.
Hatice did not want to see her daughter’s body before the funeral. “I cannot see her like that,” she said in tears.
Done and Ayas Sundar died in their apartment and were led in coffins next to each other in the line.
“It took many hours to find them and now the family is heartbroken. At least they were together but that is little consolation,” said their nephew Emre Cengiz.
“After the shock we all telephoned each other but no one could get through to Done and Ayas.
“Then there was the second quake and word spread that there were many dead. Our hearts knew.”
Ayse Colak, 35, also died with her husband and parents-in-law in Nurdagi district 65km east of Gaziantep. Her building completely collapsed.
Her sisters cried and touched the coffin in disbelief.
“There is no Nurdagi anymore, the city is completely destroyed”, said one sister, who declined to give a name.
The families slowly moved away. But in the male section of the cemetery mosque, groups stood around 10 more coffins, including those of children, awaiting a blessing.
Other bodies were in the women’s section. Outside, ambulances arrived at Yesilkent bringing more victims.
The imam would hold midday prayers in the mosque before starting another funeral, officials said as more tearful relatives gathered.
Across the Gaziantep region, international rescue teams joined local emergency services and volunteers in the increasingly desperate search for survivors.
Amid predictions that the death toll from Turkey’s worst earthquake in eight decades would mount, Yesilkent was considering extending its operating hours for funeral services, however, officials said.