NEW ORLEANS — The bodies of more than 40 patients found at a flooded hospital drove up the death toll in Louisiana yesterday to 279 and pushed the tally of lives taken by Hurricane Katrina in four states past 500.
The patients, many of them elderly, had died while waiting to be evacuated in the four days after the hurricane hit as temperatures in Memorial Medical Center rose to 106 degrees, said Dave Goodson, assistant administrator of the hospital, owned by Tenet Heathcare Corp.
“These patients were not abandoned,” Mr. Goodson said.
Meanwhile, more than half of southeastern Louisiana’s water-treatment plants were up and running again yesterday, and business owners were issued passes into the city to retrieve vital records or equipment as New Orleans continued to stir back to life.
President Bush, in his third trip to the ravaged region, got his first close-up look at the destruction in New Orleans yesterday, taking a tour that took him through several flooded neighborhoods.
The president said the race of hurricane victims did not factor in the response and rejected suggestions that the nation’s military was stretched too thin by the war in Iraq to deal with the Gulf Coast devastation.
In Washington, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Michael D. Brown announced that he is resigning “in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president.” Mr. Brown has been vilified for the government’s sluggish response to the disaster. Last week, he was stripped of responsibility for overseeing the cleanup and was abruptly recalled to Washington.
To prevent looting, business owners wanting to enter the city’s central business district and take what they needed to run their companies were required to obtain passes.
Traffic was heavy on the only major highway into the city that was still open, and vehicles were backed up for about two miles at a National Guard checkpoint across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.
Among the businessmen allowed back was Terry Cockerham, owner of Service Glass, which installs windows at businesses downtown. He has been working out of his house because his business was destroyed by looters and flooding.
“This is about the most work I’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ll work seven days a week until we get this job finished. I don’t want to get rich. I just want to get everything back right.”
State officials said yesterday that 16 of southeastern Louisiana’s 25 major wastewater treatment plants were up and running again and that 41 of 174 permanent pumps were draining water from flooded areas. They expected an increase in temporary pumps within 24 hours.
Water in many parts of the metropolitan area was going down at least a foot a day, the Army Corps of Engineers said. Once the streets are dry, crews can begin removing debris, checking buildings and other structures for soundness, and restoring utilities.
Military cargo airplanes were set to begin spraying the area yesterday to kill flies and mosquitoes. The standing water from Katrina is expected to worsen Louisiana’s already considerable mosquito problem. Before the storm hit, the state had logged 78 cases of mosquito-borne West Nile virus and four deaths from the disease this year.
Insurance analysts doubled to at least $40 billion their estimate of insured losses caused by Katrina — a figure that would make it the world’s costliest hurricane ever. Risk Management Solutions Inc. of Newark, Calif., put the economic damage at more than $125 billion.