- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

As rescuers bring the last of thousands stranded by Hurricane Katrina to safety, officials in Louisiana and Mississippi face different challenges in recovering the dead.

In Mississippi, the collection of the dead has been an ongoing operation since the day after the storm as survivors, response teams and local officials have scrabbled through wreckage in search of the living.

While the unofficial toll in Mississippi has hovered at fewer than 200 people, law enforcement officials say they expect to find many more dead as teams reach into more remote areas and begin using heavy equipment to clear piles of debris moved by the storm surge. Many officials fear the loss of life along the Mississippi Gulf Coast could exceed 1,000.

In New Orleans and surrounding parishes, removal of the dead had, until Monday, largely been set aside as rescuers scrambled to get thousands of people out of flooded homes and overwhelmed shelters.

In some cases, homes where bodies were known to be located were marked with paint. In other areas, the dead had been tied to street signs so they could be retrieved more easily later.

Only about 100 bodies have been brought to three morgues gathering victims in Louisiana, and officials reported dozens of victims left behind in the city’s evacuated hospitals.

Around Grand Isle, La., and likely in other parts of the region, the storm also washed coffins from cemeteries and these disturbed dead also will eventually have to be identified and reburied.

Both Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin have said repeatedly they expect the death toll to be in the thousands. “It’s going to be awful, and it’s going to wake the nation up again,” Mr. Nagin told NBC’s “Today” show yesterday.

That grim estimate has prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to concentrate teams of mortuary workers in a warehouse in St. Gabriel, La., south of Baton Rouge. Five of the teams have been sent to Louisiana.

Each of the teams of pathologists, medical examiners, embalmers and other specialists drawn from across the country have the ability to handle up to 144 bodies a day, and FEMA officials said the morgue has the capacity to process more than 5,000 bodies.

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