Friday, October 21, 2005

THE NEWS MEDIA has pretty much abandoned the Katrina story, and the official search for bodies in New Orleans has stopped. But that does not mean all the bodies have been found.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Katrina struck and more than two weeks after the official quest for bodies was abandoned, corpses of Ninth Ward residents are being found every day.

The discovery of new remains shows no sign of slowing down: Workers hired by the state remove several ossified bodies each day, many of them discovered by residents returning home.

As of Wednesday, the death count from the hurricane was 1,053. That includes 20 more bodies than the total counted five days earlier, and 80 more than were discovered by Oct. 4, when the search was officially called off.

Lingering floodwater prevented search teams from accessing many homes for weeks after the storm. A city policy preventing workers from entering homes without residents' permission - or strong evidence of bodies inside - also left many homes unsearched, said Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Workers for Kenyon, the Houston-based independent contractor conducting searches, now enter homes in the barricaded northern half of the Lower Ninth Ward whenever a cadaver dog picks up a scent.

Surviving residents of the poverty-stricken Ninth Ward are outraged that the search is taking so long.

"In all this time, they should have found everybody they have down there," said Chandra McCormick, a photographer who lives in the Lower Ninth Ward's Holy Cross neighborhood.

Efforts to collect the dead in the city's flood-tossed homes have garnered criticism from the start. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco wrested control of Kenyon from the federal government more than a month ago, saying she was frustrated with its slow progress.

The state Department of Health and Hospitals now oversees the contractor.

"I directed that Kenyon ramp up beyond their previous maximum operations," Blanco said in a Sept. 13 statement. "In death, as in life, our people deserve more respect than they have received."

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