Sun, Sep 11, 2005 - Page 1 News List

First New Orleans sweep complete

SILVER LINING The first street by street search of the swamped city found far fewer corpses than the 10,000 dead estimated in the most pessimistic predictions


Authorities said the first street-by-street sweep of this swamped city had revealed far fewer corpses than originally feared, a glimmer of encouraging news amid the toxic floodwaters.

The mayor and others had predicted up to 10,000 deaths, but that number appeared less likely after Friday's count, said retired Marine Colonel Terry Ebbert, the city's homeland security chief.

"Some of the catastrophic deaths that some people predicted may not have occurred," Ebbert said.

He declined to give a revised estimate, but said: "Numbers so far are relatively minor, as compared to the dire projections of 10,000."

Also Friday, the US Army Corps of Engineers projected it would take a month to dry out New Orleans, 80 percent of which was inundated after the storm and levee breaches. The Corps previously said it could take 80 days.

Authorities, meanwhile, have shifted most of their attention to counting and removing the dead, after days spent cajoling the living to get out of a city beset by fetid floodwaters and scattered fires.

Since the hurricane struck Aug. 29, residents, rescuers and cadaver-sniffing dogs have found bodies floating in the water, trapped in attics or left on broken highways. Some have been dropped off at hospital doorsteps or left slumped in wheelchairs out in the open.

Police and soldiers were marking houses where corpses were found, or noting their location with global positioning devices so the dead could be collected later.

Mayor Ray Nagin suggested last weekend that "it wouldn't be unreasonable to have 10,000" dead, and authorities ordered 25,000 body bags. But soldiers who arrived in the past few days to help in the search said they were not seeing that kind of toll.

"There's nothing at all in the magnitude we anticipated," said Major General Bill Caldwell, commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Ebbert said the search for the dead would be done block-by-block, with no media allowed to follow along.

"You can imagine sitting in Houston and watching somebody removed from your parents' property," he said. "We don't think that's proper."

State officials could not provide an exact count of the dead recovered so far.

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