Baton Rouge – The bodies of victims of Hurricane Katrina that have been recovered will be returned to their families as soon as they are identified, according to the release procedures developed by the State of Louisiana and the Department of Health and Hospitals.
As victims’ bodies are recovered from the areas affected by Katrina, they are brought to a mortuary facility in St. Gabriel where the difficult work of identifying them begins. If only a presumptive identification can be made, workers from the Find Family National Call Center contact and interview family members of the deceased, looking for information about scars, birthmarks or other features that may make identifying the person’s body easier. Staff may also collect DNA samples or dental records from family members.
To date, 340 deceased individuals in the St. Gabriel morgue have a presumptive identification and 32 more have been positively identified and released to their family through a family-designated funeral home.Information about the locations where these bodies were recovered will be added as it becomes available.
Also, of the 340 presumptive identifications, 281 families have been called by the Find Family National Call Center to begin the process of trying to establish a positive identification.
According to Dr. Louis Cataldie, state medical incident commander for the recovery operations, once positive identification is made at the morgue, the Find Family National Call Center is authorized to call the family to begin the release process.
“Staff with the Family Call Center will then proceed with the notification of the family, and they will also notify the family-designated funeral home for the removal of the decedent from the morgue site,” Cataldie explained.
Families can contact the Find Family National Call Center for help locating their loved ones at 1-866-326-9393.
The family-designated funeral home will make arrangements to come to the morgue to obtain the death certificate from staff with DHH’s Vital Records Office, who are working on-site. The death certificate must also be signed by the proper parish coroner. The coroner’s staff will then release the decedent to the funeral home.
To date, 896 deceased victims have been recovered and reported to the state. They are being kept at the morgue in St. Gabriel and with various parish coroners throughout the state.
Medical data collecting that is occurring at the St. Gabriel site includes pathology, finger printing, dental records and the collection of DNA and personal effects.