Hundreds of Katrina victims remain unidentified
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Officials in Louisiana have identified only about 200 of the more than 1,000 people killed in Hurricane Katrina, and less than half of those have been released to their families, the state's top emergency medical official said Monday.
This ratio contrasts sharply with efforts in Mississippi, where almost 200 people have been identified of about 220 who died.
In an interview with CNN, Louisiana's emergency medical response director, Dr. Louis Cataldie, said the state is having a tough time identifying many of the dead. (Watch New Orleans officials say some bodies may never be identified -- 3:16)
"Unfortunately, the condition in which we're finding our individuals essentially eliminates any chance of a visual identification," Cataldie said.
As of Friday morning, there were 1,021 confirmed deaths in Louisiana. Of those, 93 victims have been publicly identified.
Another 121 identities have been determined, but authorities have not been able to reach the families of about 50 victims, he said. Those bodies will remain in the morgue while authorities try to contact their families.
The remaining 70 or so victims will be released soon, and their identities will be issued.
The process of releasing the bodies also has been complicated because many were considered part of "possible crime scenes," Cataldie said. Those include any bodies found in nursing homes and hospitals.
"If a person was left in a nursing home and died in that nursing home," the attorney general may consider it a crime scene, he said.
In those cases, special steps and precautions were taken, slowing down the identification process.
Also, Cataldie said, the computers in the morgue and in a family assistance center "weren't talking to each other," which he called "frustrating."
The family assistance center was set up to help people find missing loved ones. In many cases, those people provide information that can assist in identifying bodies.
In one particular case, Cataldie said, officials could not identify a person who had a pacemaker. But when the computers were back up, they were able to access information about the serial number on the pacemaker, identifying the victim.
On top of it all, Hurricane Rita created additional delays, he said.
Some victims' families have openly criticized the government for taking so long.
Six weeks after Katrina struck, hundreds of families still wait for word on what happened to their loved ones.
"My heart goes out to the folks here locally," Cataldie said.
He said there are 300 individuals awaiting identification at the central morgue in St. Gabriel, "and we have absolutely no identification on them."
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