Bodies Still Being Discovered in New Orleans Cleanup

New Orleans Fire Chief Steve Glynn talks with Robert Siegel about the recent retrievals of more bodies in New Orleans, found in debris during demolition and cleanup operations.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Since the beginning of this month, eight bodies have been found in the wreckage of homes in New Orleans. About 1,400 people are still counted as missing. The Louisiana Health Department says most of the missing are probably alive. Some, they say, don't want to be found. Other people or bodies may have been swept out to sea.

Steven Glynn is New Orleans Fire Chief and he joins us now to talk about the delay in finding the dead. Welcome to the program, Chief Glynn.

Mr. STEVE GLYNN (New Orleans Fire Chief): Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: A lot of us remember that there were house-to-house inspections way back in September and October in New Orleans. Didn't you think at that time that you'd located most of the bodies of people who had perished after Katrina?

Chief GLYNN: Well yes, sir, most of the bodies were located. The problem was in a lot of the houses that were flooded, there was sometimes three or four feet of mud that would settle on the floor of a house. We had houses that were found up to three or four blocks from where they were originally situated.

We've had houses that are really just really now debris piles, really nothing left to be able to identify it as a house, it's just various layers of debris. Sometimes there were houses where we found victims where the house was off of its foundation and pushed behind another house so tightly that we didn't even realize that it was a separate house until someone gave us a physical description of the property.

SIEGEL: So you're saying even now, six months after the flood in New Orleans, you're first getting to some of the places that were in the most damaged areas?

Chief GLYNN: Well, this is the first time we've had a chance to really be able to sift through the debris. The people that originally did the searches were searching for live victims, primarily. Our mission has strictly been recovery, and so when we go into a house, we don't just search, but we clear the house. Meaning that we go room to room, we put out every piece of furniture, we dig through whatever mud or whatever has settled into the house, and we make absolutely sure that no remains are at that location.

SIEGEL: There are a lot of houses in New Orleans that were very severely damaged in the flooding. How long will it take you to conduct that thorough of search of the entire city?

Chief GLYNN: Well, the way we're targeting our searches, the Corps of Engineers are currently removing the worst houses. We are searching those houses before the Corps goes in and removes those houses. We also have a list from Louisiana Find Families of people that are still regarded as missing.

SIEGEL: Now your firefighters are discovering or have discovered bodies in this latest phase prior to demolition by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You're conducting these complete searches of the houses that are to be demolished. Are other people, contractors or relatives or police, are they at this late date also finding the remains of people?

Chief GLYNN: Well, yes sir, we haven't had any relatives find remains recently. The remains that are being found now are usually deep under debris. What we have had are workers in the area, and there are some college students who volunteered to come down and help clear out debris from people's private property, and they'll find remains or what they think may be remains, anything that they think may be suspicious, and they'll come and report it to us.

There was one address that a student saw something that he thought may be remains, we went back and we did find remains. We dug further through that debris pile, found another, and then probably only 20 feet away found a third person.

SIEGEL: And that was out of one family, do you think? Or just neighbors or...

Chief GLYNN: It's really difficult to say because sometimes it's just the debris piles are just where the water pushed a certain pile of debris. Sometimes it's very difficult to tell. In this particular debris pile, it could have been from one house or it could have been from three different houses. It's really strictly just a pile of debris.

SIEGEL: Well, Chief Glynn, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Chief GLYNN: Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: Steve Glynn is New Orleans Fire Chief. He spoke to us from Staten Island where he was enjoying a reunion with New York City Firefighters who assisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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