45 Bodies Found In La. Hospital

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By Doug Struck
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 12 -- The bodies of 45 patients left in a hasty evacuation were recovered from a New Orleans hospital, officials said Monday, as the city braced for the scenes left by the receding waters.

The news of the grim recovery at the Memorial Medical Center, the largest such discovery since Hurricane Katrina struck, came hours after President Bush completed a tour of parts of the city and spoke to local officials. He defended his administration's record, even as the chief of the federal emergency agency, Michael D. Brown, said in Washington that he was resigning after being yanked off the hurricane relief job three days ago.

Bush said that he will name R. David Paulison, now U.S. fire administrator and director of preparedness for FEMA, to lead the agency. A poll showed that Bush's standing reached a new low and that a majority of Americans disapprove of his response to Katrina.

Wrapping up his two-day visit, Bush saw a city trying to struggle back to life. But while the higher and drier downtown area buzzed with the sounds of generators and cleanup, vast swaths of the city remained a devastated frieze of dried mud, broken homes and foul stench.

Officials said the bodies found Sunday in the Memorial Medical Center were left there after a frantic evacuation, days after the storm passed and floodwaters began to rise. An official of the hospital owners said the patients died before the evacuation and their bodies were left in the facility.

But the discovery was certain to raise new questions about why so many city hospitals were not evacuated before the storm. Two medical professionals inside the Memorial Medical Center said conditions began to turn desperate shortly after the floodwaters cut off roads. The darkened corridors were jammed with families. Drinking water grew scarce. Medical supplies exhausted quickly; even IVs were being rationed, they said.

"Things looked like they were going downhill quickly," said Scot Sonnier, an oncologist there. He left before the evacuation, thinking other doctors were handling it, he said.

The city braced for more grim discoveries as the receding waters allowed search parties to reach isolated buildings. But the death toll -- 279 for Louisiana -- was still far below the initial prediction of the city's mayor that 10,000 perished.

"It's hot. It smells. But most of the houses we are looking at are empty," Oregon National Guard Staff Sgt. James Lindseth, 33, said as his platoon, inspecting for people dead or alive, worked its way through dank and broken homes that had been in the water a few days ago.

In New Orleans's downtown, most of it on higher and drier land, authorities allowed business owners to check their buildings Monday. Dump trucks with claws plucked the growing piles of debris from street corners and the air rumbled with the sound of generators.

"The least we can do is clean up our own streets," Wallace Kimbrough, 43, said as he pried debris out of the storm drain beside his home in the French Quarter. "Hey," he exclaimed, holding up a plastic bag he pulled from the muck. "Somebody lost their marijuana seeds."

In some of the outlying parishes, local school boards announced plans to restart classes next month. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport said it will begin operating commercial flights on Tuesday, joining the traffic of helicopters, cargo planes and private charters bringing relief supplies.

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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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