Mayor: Katrina Death Toll May Hit 10,000
New Orleans mayorRay Nagin says the death toll from Hurricane Katrina may top 10,000.
One week after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region, miles-long lines of vehicles crawled into Jefferson Parish on Monday as residents were allowed to return to salvage what was left of their homes. New Orleans’ mayor warned that 10,000 people may have died.
A week after the storm, a definitive death toll remained elusive. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned on NBC’s “Today” that “it wouldn’t be unreasonable to have 10,000” dead.
Despite the grim estimate, he was more upbeat than in previous days, when he railed against the federal government and broke down sobbing during a radio interview. “We’re making great progress now, the momentum has picked up. I’m starting to see some critical tasks being completed,” he told NBC. “The 17th Street canal is about or was about 84 percent closed in yesterday afternoon. We have more troops arriving, so we’re starting to make the kind of progress that I kind of expected earlier.”
Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that fewer than 10,000 people remained in the city, based on aerial reconnaissance. “This is not a city under siege,” he added on NBC. “This city needs help from the big people in America and its technology to get back on its feet. We are focused on the future. We have to finish the search-and-rescue and provide food and water from an area from Mobile (Ala.) to the east side of New Orleans, up to I-20 in Mississippi. This is a pig-big piece of terrain. There are people there that need help. We will do the best we can to get it to them.”
The toll from Katrina will be horrific, but the truth is we have no idea how many people were killed and likely won’t for quite some time. Indeed, given that the most likely victims were quite poor and off the radar screen, we may never know the precise number.
Coincidentally, we’re now learning that the death toll from the 1986 Chernobyl leak was a tiny fraction of that originally feared.
Fewer than 50 deaths have been directly attributed to radiation released in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, and the final toll could be thousands fewer than originally feared, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Monday. However, anxiety caused by fear of death and illness from radiation poisoning is causing major mental health problems among the affected population and such worries “show no signs of diminishing and may even be spreading,” the agency said, citing a new report compiled by 100 scientists.
The report said the final death toll attributed to radiation could reach 4,000, an estimate supported by all the agencies and affected governments, said Dr. Fred Mettler, a scientist who helped compile the report on behalf of the Chernobyl Forum, a group that includes the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, seven other U.N. agencies and the governments of Ukraine Ã¢€” where Chernobyl is located Ã¢€” Belarus and Russia. Ukraine has previously said it had already registered 4,400 deaths related to the accident, and early speculation following the radiation release predicted tens of thousands would die.
The 600-page report says a lack of accurate information about the accident’s consequences has made the mental health impact “the largest public health problem created by the accident.” “These problems manifest as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative and dependency on assistance from the state,” the agency said in a statement.
Community leaders and health care workers ought to receive better information about the accident’s effects so that they can help counter false fears, it said. “Persistent myths and misperceptions about the threat of radiation have resulted in ‘paralyzing fatalism’ among residents of affected areas,” it added. The report also says there is no evidence of decreased fertility following the accident, nor of any increase in congenital malformations.
Given the more direct nature of the devastation from Katrina, we won’t have to wait nineteen years to get a reasonable estimate. But early estimates of disaster totals are usually wildly high.