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9/16/2005

News from New Orleans

Initial optimism that the disaster might not have been quite as bad as originally thought seems to be receding ...
Higher-than-expected death toll seen in clustered New Orleans corpses

Tentative optimism that New Orleans’ death toll from Katrina might be far lower than first projected has given way to somber reality over the past 36 hours as search and rescue squad turn up bodies by the dozen in the hardest hit areas of the city.

By mid-afternoon Friday, the black triangles used to designate human remains were multiplying on an emergency command center map. Federal Emergency Management Agency rescue squad liaison Charles Hood said a spike in discoveries Friday has started to take an emotional toll on rescue workers.

“Our squad members are getting access to trauma and grief counselors,” Hood said. “It’s becoming a very difficult task.”

The state is in charge of releasing Katrina’s official death total, which stood at 579 Friday evening. Hood said the periodic reports from his seven 80-person squads indicate the casualty count is going to jump in the coming days, but declined to speculate on what the number would climb to. One squad alone located and marked more than a dozen houses containing dead people on Friday.

“Parts of the city have become a target-rich environment for human remains,” Hood said. “We’re just now getting into the areas that experienced the most rapid inundation ... Those are areas where the people were probably asleep when the water rushed in,” Hood said.

...While Thursday and Friday’s developments were mostly grim, the discovery of a 70-year-old man, alive and well after being trapped for 17 days, brought cheers from the beleaguered rescue squads. He was the first “live” discovery by the squads in two days, Hood said ...

“That is really going to help give momentum to everybody,” Hood said. “As bad as things are out there, we’re still holding out hope that we can find others like him.”
And this too:
New Orleans officials pulled back a bit Friday from the ambitious timeline for resettling unflooded portions of New Orleans that was announced a day earlier by Mayor Ray Nagin.

The first two phases of the plan will go on as scheduled, Col. Terry Ebbert, Nagin’s director of homeland security, said at an afternoon news conference: Business owners in the French Quarter, Central Business District, Algiers and parts of Uptown will be allowed to return beginning at 8 a.m. today. And Algiers residents can return to their homes beginning Monday morning.

But the city is taking a wait-and-see stance on the rest of the timeline, which called for some Uptown residents to return Wednesday, others Friday, and French Quarter residents to come back the following Monday.
There's really no telling right now just how bad things will turn out to be ... we'll just have to wait and see.

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