Body sweep finishes in Louisiana

RECOVERY: The body count for the state is much less than the 10,000 first predicted, although officials said that the death toll was still likely to rise as time goes on


Wed, Oct 05, 2005 - Page 7

Officials ended their door-to-door sweep for corpses finding far fewer bodies than once feared, and schoolchildren returned to classes as New Orleans revved up efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The search for Katrina victims ended in Louisiana with a death toll at 964, substantially less than the 10,000 victims some officials feared. A private company hired by the state to remove bodies was on call if any others were found.

The death toll will probably continue to rise, but authorities have said sweeps yielded fewer bodies than feared, and that the toll was likely to be well below the dire projections. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said soon after Katrina struck that his city alone could have 10,000 dead.

"There might still be bodies found -- for instance, if a house was locked and nobody able to go into it," said Bob Johannessen, a spokesman with the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Mississippi's death toll remained at 221.

There were signs of normalcy in the city on Monday -- five weeks to the day since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. St. Andrew the Apostle elementary school in the reopened Algiers neighborhood was the first Roman Catholic school to resume in New Orleans.

"My heart is just bursting," said teacher Jewell McCartney, fighting back tears as she welcomed her class of sixth-graders. "I just want to give them all a hug."

Archdiocese officials said their schools were also reopening in areas outside the city. Some public schools in nearby parishes also opened on Monday, but public schools in New Orleans remain closed. Some may resume by next month.

Yesterday, former US president Bill Clinton was to travel to Louisiana to meet with hurricane survivors at a Baton Rouge shelter, receive a briefing from officials on the relief effort and tour New Orleans' largely destroyed Ninth Ward. Clinton and former president George Bush are heading up the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which has raised US$100 million to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The US Army Corps of Engineers continues pumping water out of the lower Ninth Ward and efforts to rebuild the levees that breached, causing water to cascade into the city, remained under way.

However, two canals near the area were closed on Monday as a precaution, because of stronger-than-normal winds and higher tides, spokesman Alan Dooley said. As of late Monday afternoon, a steady stream of water leaked through the repaired levees.

Electricity had been restored to around 36 percent of New Orleans' customers and to about 99 percent of the customers in neighboring Jefferson Parish, Entergy Corp spokesman Chanel Lagarde said.