- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) — Crews are driving through coastal Mississippi, picking up bodies left on sidewalks like garbage and depositing them in refrigerated mobile morgues. Coroners are conducting autopsies in parking lots because the only available light is from the sun.

Most Hurricane Katrina relief efforts are focused on the living, many of whom are struggling to get enough food, water, shelter, power and medical attention. The dead are a lower priority, and many bodies have been putrefying since the water receded Monday.

The official death toll was 126 and rising yesterday as search-and-rescue teams and dogs went through the ruins of neighborhoods washed away by the huge storm surge.

Most of the bodies in Jackson County — where the beach towns of Pascagoula, Gautier and Ocean Springs were swamped — have been taken to the Heritage Funeral Home in Moss Point. The business has no water, power or phone service, making the job of storing and identifying the dead difficult for county coroner Vicki Broadus and a forensic pathologist working with her.

A refrigerated truck was running in the parking lot yesterday with 10 bodies, six of which could not be identified. Miss Broadus said most of the victims drowned or suffered severe injuries when buildings collapsed around them. Their faces have been distorted from the water or the rubble and they have started to decompose. Their identification and clothes were swept away, and many bodies had drifted miles from home.

“We are looking for any scars, tattoos, dental work. I’m doing DNA, fingerprinting and photos,” she said.

On the other side of the state in Waveland, one of the hardest-hit towns, police and others drove past obliterated homes in pickup trucks, stopping where bodies had been spotted by officials or reported by family or neighbors.

“All we’ve been told is that there are bodies lying around, and we can’t get to them all,” police patrolman John Saltarelli said.

Search and rescue crews were still trying to work their way to areas west of Waveland, expecting to find more bodies.

Miss Broadus expects many more bodies in Jackson County. They have been examining bodies on a table in the parking lot, washing the corpses, searching for identifiable marks and taking fingerprints, photos and material for a DNA sample.

Then, they apply a topical preservative, zip the body back into a bag and put it back in the refrigerated truck.

Miss Broadus suggests that those who call to report missing people give more than the basic details about age, weight and height. She wants to know what surgeries people have had, and what clothing and even what kind of underwear they were wearing.

“If they routinely wear boxers or briefs, whether they have dentures or partial plates — anything that might help us,” she said.

It will be at least a week and maybe longer before any funerals are conducted, Heritage manager James V. Miller said.

“If we could get power, if we could get phone service, we could serve the families we have waiting,” he said.

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