Coast Guard Recovering Katrina Dead

The Coast Guard begins to recover the bodies of the people that died from the floods in New Orleans. Renee Montagne reports on how special retrieval teams are collecting the remains of Katrina's victims.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Since Hurricane Katrina struck, the city of New Orleans has been an open morgue. Now as the murky waters engulfing New Orleans recede, they're giving up the dead. The remains of residents who did not escape Hurricane Katrina, who drowned with their city, are being collected by special retrieval teams which include a chaplain. The official in charge of disaster relief is Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen. He says it's important to treat the bodies with dignity.

Vice Admiral THAD ALLEN (USCG): When the retrieval team arrives on scene, the first thing that happens is an ecumenical prayer is rendered by the chaplain.

MONTAGNE: The teams collect as much information as they can at the site, anything that could help investigators identify the deceased. The bodies are then taken to the morgue under police escort. There, they are decontaminated. Pathologists then collect DNA and determine if an autopsy is necessary.

Vice Adm. ALLEN: On completion of the forensic data collection, I want to repeat--I want to make sure that I'm very clear on this--there will be a ceremonial symbolic washing of the body to honor the dead, as observed in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

MONTAGNE: Vice Admiral Thad Allen, speaking from New Orleans.

In Louisiana, the official death toll now stands at 474. It's expected to rise.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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