Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina death toll may be revised lower

Here's a new development on the Katrina aftermath that is somewhat interesting if not encouraging:

Authorities said Friday that their first systematic sweep of the city found far fewer bodies than expected, suggesting that Hurricane Katrina's death toll may not be the catastrophic 10,000 feared.

"I think there's some encouragement in what we've found in the initial sweeps that some of the catastrophic deaths that some people predicted may not have occurred," said Terry Ebbert, New Orleans' homeland security chief.

Ebbert declined to give a new estimate of the dead.

Authorities turned their attention to counting and removing the dead in a grid-by-grid search of the city after spending days cajoling, persuading and all but strong-arming the living into leaving the shattered city because of the danger of fires and disease from the filthy, corpse-laden floodwaters.

"Numbers so far are relatively minor as compared to the dire projections of 10,000," Ebbert said.

Mayor Ray Nagin had suggested over the weekend that the death toll could climb that high, and authorities ordered 25,000 body bags as they started gathering up the dead across a landscape awash in corpses.

Separately, Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, commanding general of 82nd Airborne Division, said the last of the bodies at the convention center would be taken out on Friday. Thousands of people took shelter there after the hurricane for days with little or no food or water, in what became an increasingly chaotic and violent situation.

In a small sign of progress, authorities said the New Orleans airport will reopen to commercial flights on Sept. 19. Caldwell said water and power are functioning at the airport.

Something in my gut told me that maybe 10,000 was a bit high. Remember the numbers that were initially thrown around right after Sept. 11 -- something in the neighborhood of 25,000? A lot of times the "experts" don't know much more than the rest of us.