Preparing for grimmest task
By Times Staff Writer
Published September 8, 2005
Teams in New Orleans have not been given orders to switch from search and rescue to recovery, but bodies are finally being brought out.
State officials said about 80 bodies had been recovered, but that number is expected to increase as water recedes.
Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has 25,000 body bags on hand in Louisiana.
Asked if authorities expected that many bodies, he said: "We don't know what to expect."
Tom Ewald, a battalion chief with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said FEMA had instructed his teams to confirm the location of bodies they see with street addresses if possible or through global satellite positioning, to secure the bodies to something and to alert FEMA.
Bodies that are recovered are being taken to collection centers around the New Orleans area, where preliminary information is gathered to help identify them, including where they were found and any documentation or personal effects found with them.
They are put in body bags, loaded onto refrigerated trucks and sent to a large mortuary, the Disaster Portable Mortuary Unit, operated by the state Department of Health and Hospitals in St. Gabriel, south of Baton Rouge. There, teams of volunteers are recording information through dental X-rays, photographs, fingerprints and DNA sampling. After the personal information is collected, the bodies are turned over to the state. Johannessen said the details would be preserved on Web sites. "All efforts will be made to contact family members," he said.
The bodies collected so far have mostly come from public locations, including the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center, said Jim Chesnutt, a spokesman for the FEMA search-and-rescue effort.
Chesnutt said the transition to body recovery is not expected to occur soon.
"Right now, we know there are still people out there who need to be rescued," Chesnutt said. However, he added, "We recognize that every dead person is somebody's father, mother, son, daughter or grandparent."
[Last modified September 8, 2005, 01:50:14]
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