New searches for the remains of people killed by Hurricane Katrina should be performed in light of the recent discovery of bones from Sept. 11 victims in New York, the local coroner said Thursday.
New Orleans coroner Frank Minyard has consistently said he believes that more Katrina victims will be discovered in the vast swaths of flooded out and collapsed homes that haven't yet been demolished across the city, but the recent discovery of hundreds of bone fragments in New York -- more than 5 years after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center -- have added urgency to new searches here, he said.
"It woke me up. I was getting a little complacent, saying we got them all," Minyard said in an interview.
Roughly 130 people remain officially missing following the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Some of the names on the list likely belong to the 33 remains that have been recovered but are not yet identified.
Others may belong to people washed out to sea. More than 1,300 people were killed in Louisiana by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But Minyard believes some bodies are waiting to be discovered in wrecked buildings still. The most recently discovered body was found in July.
Because his staff, which included 38 people before Katrina, is down to 12, he hopes to get volunteer medical or emergency services professionals to help with the search.
He asked the city council on Wednesday to pass an ordinance protecting his office from legal responsibility if a volunteer is injured. Minyard hopes volunteers will begin new searches, particularly in heavily flooded eastern New Orleans, early next year.
For months after the storm, firefighters and other officials scoured addresses of those reported missing and performed repeated door-to-door searches in the destroyed Lower 9th Ward, but those searches ended months ago when fire officials were satisfied they had looked everywhere they could.
Minyard believes new searches are necessary in some other areas to ensure that the public and families are confident everything possible was done to find storm victims.
"I know they're going to find bodies. They're going to find remains. I just feel it in my bones," he said. "I'm just trying to avoid what happened in New York."
While some relatives of Katrina victims were vocal in demanding the release of remains in the early months after the storm, criticism has since subsided. In New York, however, the families of Sept. 11 victims have continued to be vocal in demanding more thorough searches for remains.
Officials there plan a yearlong search of a service road and several rooftops after more than 200 bones, including several large ones, were found in manholes near the World Trade Center site in recent weeks. Hundreds of others were discovered in the past year on a roof of a damaged skyscraper.