September 4, 2005
Louisiana says 59 confirmed deaths from Katrina
By Michael Peltier
BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - After a week of silence
on Hurricane Katrina's death toll, Louisiana officials
announced a partial count on Sunday and said U.S. mortuary
teams that identified victims of the September 11 attacks had
been brought in to help.
They said 59 people had been confirmed as storm victims but
said they were only counting bodies they had in their
"It's a small number and everyone knows it's going to
grow," said Dr. Fred Cerise, secretary of the Louisiana
Department of Health and Hospitals. "Today's number will only
begin to describe and quantify the tragedy."
Federal and state officials have said they expect Katrina's
death toll to be in the thousands.
Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams, which include
experts in the identification of human remains, were brought to
Louisiana along with refrigerated trucks and portable morgues
to handle the bodies.
The 30-member DMORT teams, comprised of pathologists,
coroners, forensic anthropologists and experts in
fingerprinting, DNA and dental identification, have been
involved in the identification of victims of the September 11,
2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the 1995 Oklahoma
City bombing and numerous plane crashes.
Officials said they had assembled facilities capable of
handling 1,000 bodies immediately and were expanding them. The
teams can process 144 bodies a day, they said.
Recovered bodies, many of which have been floating or
submerged for a week, will be sent to regional collection sites
where workers will assemble preliminary information including
where they were found, as well as any documents or personal
effects that were found with them.
The bodies will then be sent to a central examination
facility located in St. Gabriel, between New Orleans and Baton
Rouge, where specialists will take photos, make dental records
and collect fingerprints and DNA.
That information will be used to identity and notify
"We will maintain dignity and respect throughout the
process," said Todd Ellis, head of the federal mortuary team.
Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state's emergency response medical
director, declined to speculate on how high the death toll
"It's not about numbers. I don't know how high that's going
to go," Cataldie said. "Each death is enough. This is