Chilling burial footage emerges as New York City's virus death toll climbs above 4000

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

Chilling footage showing prisoners burying coffins of New York’s unclaimed dead has emerged as the city grapples with where to lay to rest its more than 4000 deceased from the coronavirus.

New York state had 731 deaths on Tuesday – its highest single-day loss. As many as 5,489 New Yorkers have died from the virus.

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The whole of the US recorded more than 1900 deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day death toll of any country, as total deaths across the nation approached 13,000.

The video, released last week, shows aerial footage of prisoners in protective gear lowering wooden coffins into the ground on on Hart Island, in the northeast Bronx of New York City.

Inmates have been used to bury the city’s unclaimed dead on the island for 150 years, the New York Post reports.

A former prisoner named Vincent Mingalone, who worked on the burial operation until mid February, narrates the video.

He said prisoners would work in teams to label coffins with a name, date of death and a burial plot description, then stack them three high on top of each other before covering them with dirt.

Inmates are shown burying coffins on Hart Island in New York. Source: Vimeo/Melinda Hunt

“We always wondered, was this person serving coffee, was this person a janitor in a building, and what did this person do in life that they ultimately wound up here alone,” Mr Mingalone said in the voiceover.

Burials seemed to have increased on Hart Island since the coronavirus outbreak, but officials at City Hall on Tuesday told the New York Post no victims of COVID-19 had been buried there to date.

More deaths than September 11

The total deaths from the virus in New York City has eclipsed the 2,753 killed in the city during the World Trade Center attack on 9/11.

A total of 2,977 people died overall after hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.

At least 4000 people have died in New York City from COVID-19, and almost 5,500 across the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday (local time) there was “a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers”.

But in an encouraging sign, the governor said hospital admissions and the number of those receiving breathing tubes are dropping, indicating social distancing measures were succeeding.

Mr Cuomo said fewer cases were a “lagging indicator”, explaining how over the past several days the number of deaths in New York had shown signs of levelling off.

“You see that plateauing — that’s because of what we are doing. If we don’t do what we are doing, that is a much different curve. So social distancing is working,” he said.

Coffins containing bodies were labeled before being put in the mass grave and covered with dirt. Source: Vimeo/Melinda Hunt

There are still some hotspots in the city where it remains impossible for people to maintain acceptable distances between each other.

Some of the other deadliest US hotspots were Detroit, New Orleans and the New York metropolitan area, which includes parts of Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.

New Jersey recorded over 1,200 dead, most of them in the northern counties where many residents commute into New York City.

- with Associated Press

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