September 13, 2005

Bodies found in New Orleans hospital raises questions

By Kieran Murray

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The discovery of 45 bodies in an
abandoned hospital in New Orleans raised new questions about
the government's response to Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday as
President George W. Bush scheduled his first national address
since the disaster.

The bodies were discovered at the Memorial Medical Center
on Monday, the same day Bush toured the city. They raised the
official death toll from the August 29 storm above 500 and
officials said some may have died while waiting for help that
did not arrive for several days after the hurricane.

The White House said Bush would address the nation from
Louisiana on Thursday evening. Facing heavy criticism and the
lowest approval ratings of his presidency, Bush has visited the
Gulf coast three times in the past two weeks, most recently on
Monday when he toured New Orleans in a flat bed truck.

"The president will talk to the American people about the
recovery and the way forward on the longer-term rebuilding,"
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

In another sign of recovery, officials said New Orleans'
Louis Armstrong International Airport would reopen Tuesday to
passenger traffic, 16 days after the last commercial flight
took off.

Only four flights were scheduled, but officials said there
could be 60 per day by the end of the week. Before the storm,
the airport averaged 350 flights a day.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set October 8 as its
target date to have New Orleans "dewatered."

"We're not really saying 'dry,' we're saying 'dewatered,"'
said Dana Finney, a Corps public affairs officer. That meant
the city would be dry enough for engineers to begin working on
infrastructure, even if some pockets of water remained.

Physical conditions in New Orleans, once home to 450,000,
ranged from nearly normal on the surface in the high and dry
French Quarter to whole neighborhoods still under brown and
polluted water in the lowest sections of town. About 40 percent
of the city was still flooded.


Business owners were being allowed back into New Orleans'
commercial center to check their property. Power had been
restored in areas of the city.

In Louisiana officials had confirmed 279 fatalities,
including the latest hospital deaths. An additional 218 people
have died in Mississippi. Katrina also caused scattered deaths
in Alabama and Florida.

Experts working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention said they had found very little disease in New
Orleans. "We have not been seeing the diseases that many people
around the country feared," spokesman Curtis Allen said.

Dr. Carolyn Tabak, a pediatrician at the National Center
for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Maryland, said: "We
haven't seen anything that jumps off the page. But there are
illnesses that seem to be occurring in greater numbers."

The storm, which displaced a million coastal residents,
could be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, with
estimates ranging from $100 billion to $200 billion. The U.S.
Congress has approved $62.3 billion so far for relief.

Also on Monday, the head of the U.S. disaster agency
resigned in the face of unrelenting criticism about
Washington's response to the emergency.

Michael Brown stepped down as chief of the Federal
Emergency Management Agency three days after he had been
removed from direct control over recovery efforts.

In an apparent nod to critics who said the agency needed
more expertise at the top, the White House announced that David
Paulison, a veteran firefighter who runs the agency's
preparedness division, would take over as acting director.

Fifty-four percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's
handling of the response to Katrina, according to two polls
released on Monday -- one by ABC News/Washington Post and the
other by CNN/USA Today/Gallup.