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Katrina Updates

December 1st, 2005 10:52 PM

Katrina victims yet to be identified

Three months after storm, DNA testing hasn't begun

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- New Orleans' coroner expressed outrage Tuesday that the process of using DNA to identify more than 200 bodies left from Hurricane Katrina has not begun because the state of Louisiana has not signed contracts with firms that would do the testing.

"It's extremely frustrating," said Dr. Frank Minyard, given that so many dentists' offices were wiped out in the flood along with their dental records, which are commonly used in the identification process.

"We have to rely on DNA and it should have been done, at least started, a month ago," he said.

Three months after the storm ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, many of the bodies discovered in Louisiana remain at a makeshift morgue.

A FEMA spokeswoman pointed out Wednesday that DNA testing was always meant to be the last resort in identifying bodies, after all levels of forensics procedures. It was only about two weeks ago that it was decided that point had been reached, she said.

FEMA then asked the state if it wanted the federal government to sign up contractors -- a process that would take two months to set up -- or if the state wanted to do it, which would get the work started sooner. The only other difference, FEMA said, was that if the state handled it, at some point the federal reimbursement level could drop from 100 percent to 90 percent. If the federal government handled it reimbursement would remain at 100 percent throughout.

The state opted to handle signing up contractors, FEMA said, and the process is under way.

FEMA said there are about 140 bodies on which some information is available -- such as the body was found in or near a home from which someone has been reported missing -- and DNA will be used to confirm the suspected identities.

On 130 other bodies, however, there is no information to provide a starting point, FEMA said.

DNA samples were collected from survivors as they went through evacuation centers, so it can be compared to DNA from the victims, but the process will be time-consuming.

New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas expressed his own frustration over the delay in a phone interview with CNN.

"How much more sorrow do these families have to bear?" he asked. "People want some closure from this."

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