September 6, 2005

Burial site sought for Louisiana storm victims

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Louisiana will inter in
individual graves the remains of Hurricane Katrina victims who
cannot be immediately identified so that families can reclaim
the bodies later if forensic experts eventually determine who
they are, an official said on Tuesday.

State and federal authorities have begun the grim task of
collecting the remains of perhaps thousands of storm victims
and have set up a morgue in St. Gabriel, about 70 miles (110
km) from New Orleans, to process the corpses.

The bodies are being kept in refrigerated trucks. Teams of
forensic pathologists and experts in fingerprinting, DNA and
dental identification will be able to process about 140 bodies
a day.

But with the likelihood that not all will be immediately
identified, the state is looking for a place to bury the
remains in individual graves while the experts work to learn
who they are.

"The state will select an appropriate burial site for the
people who are not immediately identified," said David Passey,
a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Our
primary concern is for the dignity of the deceased."

If forensic experts ultimately identify the remains through
DNA, fingerprints, dental records or other information they
gathered from the body, the remains would be exhumed and turned
over to relatives.

"The family will have the choice to collect the body," he
said, adding that relatives could choose to leave the remains
in the burial ground.

The mortuary teams have made plans to process in excess of
5,000 bodies. State and local officials have said Katrina's
death toll could be 10,000 or more.

Not all of the corpses can be kept in refrigerated trucks

"We believe that this (a burial ground) is the best option
for those that are not immediately identified," Passey said.