Study: Many Katrina Victims Were Elderly, Black

A study has confirmed that the majority of those who died in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina were elderly, and many were black. The study charted the ages and ethnicities of about 500 bodies identified in a special state morgue.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The latest big attack in Baghdad was guaranteed to generate worldwide media attention. It was an attack on the heavily fortified Palestine Hotel, which is home to much of the international media. Videotape shows huge clouds of smoke after a series of explosions today. Various accounts suggest at least one of the explosions was a car bomb. There are reports of casualties and we will keep you updated as we learn more.

In this country, authorities are learning more about the casualties from Hurricane Katrina. A study in Louisiana finds that most people killed in that state were elderly, African-American or both. Another analysis lists the kinds of neighborhoods where some people perished. Here's NPR's Howard Berkes.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

Both studies reduce the loss of life to statistics, but they confirm what many suspect. Age, race and class made death in Katrina more likely. That's what Chester Lastie has believed. He's a 63-year resident of the New Orleans Ninth Ward.

Mr. CHESTER LASTIE (Ninth Ward Resident): I really don't believe the older people had a real good chance of getting out like the younger people did. The water came up so fast, it wasn't a chance for the older people to get out.

BERKES: Especially older people who were sick or infirm to begin with or with no means of evacuation. In fact, 60 percent of the Louisiana Katrina victims identified so far are 61 years of age or older--60 percent. And that doesn't include the people who died in hospitals or nursing homes in the aftermath of the storm. More than 40 percent of the identified dead are African-American and that doesn't surprise Chester Lastie either.

Mr. LASTIE: The Ninth Ward is 85 percent African-American, but also 85 percent of the Lower Ninth Ward is property owners. This is my home. This is our roots.

BERKES: The Ninth Ward is the poorest neighborhood in the city. It has the biggest body count, along with adjacent Gentilly, which isn't quite as poor. That's from a much smaller survey of a hundred fifty victims whose bodies have been released to relatives. These neighborhoods had the worst flooding and lots of people who didn't leave.

Mr. LASTIE: It's hard to give up your property when this is all you have, and even in a tendency of a storm, you have a tendency to stay to protect it.

BERKES: That's not exclusive to poor people. One more neighborhood over in mostly white and more affluent Lakeview, flooding was also severe. Many with the means to leave didn't. More people died there than in all but three other neighborhoods. These analyses are preliminary. Hundreds of souls have yet to be identified and included in these soulless statistics. Howard Berkes, NPR News, New Orleans.

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