NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) Nov 20, 2005
Trapped in attics and collapsed buildings, many of the dead of New Orleans remain undiscovered nearly three months after Hurricane Katrina struck, and weeks after flood waters were pumped out of the lowest lying areas.
The official door-to-door search ended October 3 with a death toll of 972. Since then, at least 107 more bodies have been found. Some by officials, some by horror-struck friends and family members, some even by insurance inspectors.
Officials refuse to speculate on how many bodies could still be out there, though do expect that more will be discovered when another area of the hardest-hit Ninth Ward is reopened on December 1.
"You have no idea what to expect when you just see a roof lying on the ground," said resident Laura Guccione.
Guccione recently entered the Ninth Ward to check on the home of a friend and popular R&B musician Al "Carnival Time" Johnson. Johnson was on the road performing when the storm stuck and is currently in Houston, living in a nursing home.
"Homes are moved off their foundations. The stairs are there leading to nothing and then the house is over there. It's like the Wizard of Oz. You expect to see a couple of legs sticking out from where the house landed," she said.
Guccione didn't enter the ravaged home but recovered one of Johnson's trumpet cases from the wreckage. It was empty except for three mouthpieces.
For New Orleans residents returning to homes that weren't empty, the prospects are more grim.
The official military door-to-door search ended on Oct. 3, but much of the Ninth Ward remains to be searched. State officials expect that many of the bodies remaining to be found will be discovered by family members.
This stands in stark contrast to the clean-up the World Trade Center site after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Official clean-up lasted eight and a half months and totaled an estimated 3.1 million hours of labor.
State officials bristle at the comparison. It's unfair to compare the 16 acre World Trade Center site with the miles of neighborhoods in Eastern New Orleans, said Department of Health and Hospitals spokesman Bob Johannsen.
Louisiana's decision to end the official search for victims last month triggered harsh criticism from Jack Stephens, sheriff of ravaged St. Bernard Parish, east of New Orleans. He said state authorities never completely searched some of the most heavily damaged areas where many elderly residents lived when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29.
"For people to come home to that damage and then to make that gruesome discovery - that doesn't seem fair to me," Stephens said.
The New Orleans Fire Department continues to search for bodies in the lower Ninth Ward. They use trained dogs to sniff for bodies in piles of debris and homes that can't be entered. But the process is slow and they don't have near the capacity of military search teams.
People who find bodies are expected to report them to regular city emergency response services through 911 or to call the coroner's office. Bodies are taken to the temporary morgue located at the Convention Center and are then transferred to a federally run morgue set up in St. Gabriel, Louisiana.
The St. Gabriel morgue is having its own difficulties handling the flood of bodies. Many families have complained of incomplete and inaccurate death reports.
Also, more than 300 bodies remain unidentified. No DNA testing has been completed on any of those bodies, said Health and Hospitals spokesman Johannsen, although many samples have been taken.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.