October 7, 2005

Nameless Katrina Victims

The Majority of Dead Katrina Victims Nameless. This is sad.

More than a month after Hurricane Katrina, the vast majority of the nearly 1,000 dead in Louisiana lie anonymously in a morgue — largely because authorities have released only a few dozen names, but also, perhaps, because many of the victims' families were scattered by the storm and are still picking up the pieces of their lives.
"We know families must be frantic," said Department of Health and Hospitals spokesman Christina Stephens. "We completely understand and are trying to have it move efficiently and quickly, but we have no margin for error. We have to be 100 percent sure before we tell someone a body is their loved one."
Dr. Michael Doberson, an Arapahoe County, Colo., coroner who helped identify victims at the World Trade Center and in Louisiana, said one difference here is that "things are so much more scattered."
"It happened over such a great area so it's hard to get an idea where or who the people are," he said. "In 9-11 it was all at one site. There was a place for people to gather and present their plight. You aren't seeing that now probably because families are scattered and because there's not just one central place people can go to."

Frank Minyard, the Orleans Parish coroner, said his staff working in St. Gabriel is able to do 12-15 autopsies a day.
"I would estimate we will be here for at least a year," he said.
Both he and Cataldie said the majority of people died of natural causes such as strokes and heart attacks, and far fewer from drowning. Eight people had gunshot wounds, but Minyard said those would not be classified as homicides because the circumstances of the deaths were not known.
Minyard said he believes more people committed suicide than many realized, and cited as an example "a guy I know very well" who drank Freon refrigerant after seeing his storm-damaged property.
Officials said they have taken nearly 250 DNA samples from family members. But many dental records were ruined by the flood. The identifying of the dead was also slowed for days by Hurricane Rita. And because of criminal investigations, all of the more than 100 bodies recovered from nursing homes and hospitals had to be autopsied.
In Mississippi, 196 of the 221 known victims of Katrina have been identified. But tattoos, driver's licenses and physical characteristics have been used there — means of identification that Louisiana officials say are insufficient by themselves.

Posted by Jill Fallon at October 7, 2005 9:34 PM | Permalink