September 9, 2005

New Orleans death toll may not be “catastrophic”

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The number of dead in New Orleans
from Hurricane Katrina may not be as high as first feared, the
top Homeland Security official there said on Friday.

"There's some encouragement in the initial sweeps. Some of
the catastrophic deaths some people have predicted may not have
occurred," Col. Terry Ebbert, director of Homeland Security for
the city of New Orleans said at a news conference.

"The numbers so far are relatively minor as compared with
the dire predictions of 10,000."

Shortly after Katrina devastated New Orleans on August 29,
breaching levees and flooding the city, Mayor Ray Nagin said
the death toll could reach 10,000. Federal officials also
prepared for a high toll, making 25,000 body bags available.

So far the official toll in Louisiana is 118 confirmed dead
but there are many bodies scattered throughout the city and
officials fear many more could be trapped inside homes and

Ebbert said the door-to-door search for residents still in
New Orleans was completed and would shift to a recovery effort
to look for bodies.

"The search for living individuals across the city has been
conducted. ... What we are starting today ... is a recovery
operation, a recovery operation to search by street, by grid,
for the remains of any individuals who have passed away,"
Ebbert said.

He said the exercise would be "done with dignity meaning
there will be no press allowed."

Ebbert said all information on the numbers of dead would be
released by the State of Louisiana.

Others at the news conference said city emergency services
were still taking rescue calls and would continue to do so
until officials felt it was safe to begin focusing on
recovering bodies.