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.

Update: Mayor: Katrina May Have Killed Thousands (AP)

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 death’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.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Arun Shrivastava says:

    Dear friends
    I have just one question. Have you guys in the USofA lost all sense of humanism? You voted your government in power that is wrecking havoc all over the world. The same government can’t clean up New Orleans, with all the advanced technology. I am told by my friends that the death toll could be 2 to 3 hundred thousands. Has you mainstream media gone berserk? Are they a bunch of mad, intellectually, deficient SOBs, who can’t report the truth? I am sick of the way you Yanquies behave and run your country. And you guys want to rule the world?

  2. Heather says:

    You retard, if the death toll was that high, there would be mountains of bodies piled all over. Are you so illiterate that you believe everything your friends tell you? And we don’t want to rule the world, we *DO* rule the world. Like it or not we are THE MegaPower in this world of ours and we’re not going anywhere. So why don’t you cry about it a little bit more and maybe your tears will make a difference. Are you upset because we’re in Iraq? We’re not happy about it either. But at least we have the right to protest that fact. Unlike the Iraqis did. We may not be a perfect country, but we’re damned better than most of the other ones.