New Orleans turns attention to its dead

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Echoing a prediction made by Mayor Ray Nagin last week, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Saturday she expected the death toll to reach the thousands. And Craig Vanderwagen, rear admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service, said one morgue alone, at a St. Gabriel prison, expected 1,000 to 2,000 bodies.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said the death toll from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is in the thousands, the first time a federal official has acknowledged what many had feared.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said the death toll from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is in the thousands, the first time a federal official has acknowledged what many had feared.

Leavitt said he couldn’t provide a precise number on the impact of the devastation, but when asked if it was in the thousands, he told CNN’s “Late Edition,� “I think it’s evident it’s in the thousands.�

Echoing a prediction made by Mayor Ray Nagin last week, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Saturday she expected the death toll to reach the thousands. And Craig Vanderwagen, rear admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service, said one morgue alone, at a St. Gabriel prison, expected 1,000 to 2,000 bodies.

Scenes of horror
Sunday morning, a woman’s body remained lying at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street — a business area in the lower Garden District with antique shops on the edge of blighted housing. The body had been there since at least Wednesday.

As days passed, people covered her with blankets or plastic.

By Sunday, a short wall of bricks had been built around her body, holding down a plastic tarpaulin. On it, someone had spray-painted a cross and the words, “Here lies Vera. God help us.�

Charles Womack, a 30-year-old roofer, said he saw one man beaten to death and another commit suicide at the Superdome. Womack was beaten with a pipe and treated at the airport center, where bodies were kept in a refrigerated truck.

“One guy jumped off a balcony. I saw him do it. He was talking to a lady about it. He said it reminded him of the war and he couldn’t leave,� he said.

Three babies died at the convention center from heat exhaustion, said Mark Kyle, a medical relief provider.

But some progress was evident. The last 300 refugees at the Superdome were evacuated Saturday evening, eliciting cheers from members of the Texas National Guard who had been standing watch over the facility for nearly a week as some 20,000 hurricane survivors waited for rescue.

On Sunday, utilities planned to send trucks into the city to assess storm damage for the first time since Katrina struck. Morgan Stewart, a spokesman for electricity provider Entergy Corp., said the National Guard would escort the company’s vehicles.

Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said he would return to New Orleans to oversee the next phase of relief efforts.

In addition, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will fly to Louisiana and Mississippi on Sunday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned a trip to Mobile, Ala.

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