Mayor: Katrina Killed Hundreds–Maybe Thousands–in New Orleans
CNN Breaking: New Orleans mayor says Katrina killed hundreds — maybe thousands — of people in city, Associated Press reports.
The mayor said Wednesday that Hurricane Katrina probably killed thousands of people in New Orleans.
“We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water,” and others dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: “Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands.”
The frightening prediction came as Army engineers struggled to plug New Orleans’ breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, while authorities drew up plans to move some 25,000 storm refugees out of the city to Houston in a huge bus convoy and all but abandon flooded-out New Orleans.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the situation was desperate and there was no choice but to clear out. “The logistical problems are impossible and we have to evacuate people in shelters,” the governor said. “It’s becoming untenable. There’s no power. It’s getting more difficult to get food and water supplies in, just basic essentials.”
“We are looking at 12 to 16 weeks before people can come in,” Nagin said on ABC’s “Good Morning America, “and the other issue that’s concerning me is we have dead bodies in the water. At some point in time the dead bodies are going to start to create a serious disease issue.”
Well, thankfully, the last statement is inaccurate.
Are Dead Bodies Dangerous? (Slate, Aug. 23, 1999)
The rotting corpses of earthquake victims are a “negligible” threat to public health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
A corpse is only a danger to public health if the victim died of an infectious disease. (In that case, the disease organisms can infect living people who come in contact with the cadaver.) But when someone dies of trauma, as most earthquake victims did, the decomposition process is harmless, if disgusting. Bacteria within the body–especially E. coli from the gut–immediately start to consume the flesh. Maggots hatched from eggs laid in the corpse also eat the cadaver, as can wasps, beetles, and other insects. Larger animals such as birds, rats, and dogs pick at unguarded corpses.
The bacteria involved in decomposition are not dangerous, because living people already carry identical germs in their own bodies. The maggots and other insects, though revolting, also constitute no threat to public health. Rats do host fleas, which can transmit typhus, typhoid fever, plague, and other diseases. But rats endanger public health wherever they mingle with people: They are no more harmful when they feed on corpses than at any other time.
Despite ancient fears of deathÃ¢€™s “miasma,” the foul odor emitted by the body as it rots is innocuous.
Dead bodies and health risks (Wikipedia)
After catastrophes with extensive loss of life due to trauma, much resource is often expended on burying the dead quickly, and applying disinfectant to bodies, to prevent disease.
According to health professionals the fear of bodies spreading disease is not justified. Amongst others, Steven Rottman, director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters, said that no scientific evidence existed that bodies of disaster victims increased the risk of epidemics, adding that cadavers in fact posed less risk of contagion than living people.
Still, the horror of this disaster is still only being revealed slowly even though the storm itself has passed.