BATON ROUGE—The Department of Health and Hospitals announced today it has begun an orderly transition of all remaining responsibilities for the identification and release of deceased Hurricane Katrina victims to the Orleans Parish coroner.
According to DHH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise, since last September, the state health agency has provided mortuary assistance to Dr. Minyard and other parish coroners.
“Following Katrina, we were directed by Gov. Blanco to assist coroners throughout the state. In Orleans Parish, for example, we had provided the coroner with office space, equipment, fuel and housing during the operations of the St. Gabriel morgue. In addition, we have provided support and technical assistance for DNA identification,” said Dr. Cerise.
Since March, the Orleans coroner has made it clear to the Department of Health and Hospitals, to the state medical examiner and to others that he has assumed full responsibility for storing and identifying bodies found in New Orleans, and of notifying families. In a letter to Dr. Minyard, DHH formally acknowledges that the Orleans coroner has full authority for all mortuary operations in the city.
“Through June 30, I have committed our continued support of the Orleans coroner by providing DNA analysis and testing. Per a request by the coroner to have the assistance of a particular DNA expert, DHH contracted with that expert to collect bone samples for DNA analysis,” Cerise added.
When federal morgue operations ended March 1, DHH and Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard moved all unidentified human remains, as well as those who had not yet been released to their families, from Carville to New Orleans. During the move, 205 caskets that contained both identified and unidentified remains were moved to New Orleans. Today, 115 storm victims remain in the custody of the coroner.
In addition, beginning March 1, DHH coordinated an effort with the New Orleans Fire Department to conduct a final search for remains in the neighborhoods hardest hit by Katrina. The result has been the discovery of 17 more bodies. These are being stored by the Orleans Coroner in Baton Rouge.
DHH will also continue to provide meals and up to five hotel rooms through April 28, 2006 to the City of New Orleans for the housing of cadaver dogs and their handlers who are participating in these latest search efforts.
DHH will continue to update its “Deceased Reports” on the Katrina Missing Web site (www.katrinamissing.dhh.louisiana.gov) based on information from the Orleans Parish coroner. However, any questions about identification and morgue operations should be directed to the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office at 504-202-4705.