Orleans coroner sees typhoon death toll through his own experien - FOX 8, WVUE, fox8live.com, weather, app, news, saints

Orleans coroner sees typhoon death toll through his own experiences in Katrina

NEW ORLEANS - The Orleans Parish coroner sees the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan through the memories of his own experiences during Hurricane Katrina.

On Tuesday, the official death toll in the Philippines stood at 1,774.

Dr. Frank Minyard said quickly dealing with that many bodies is overwhelming, and it's a task that still weighs on his memory since Katrina.

"They are going to have to have mass graves," said Minyard. "They're not going to be able to identify everybody."

The official death toll in the Philippines nearly matched how many people died statewide in Katrina.

"We autopsied almost every body," Minyard said. "I was determined to autopsy people rather than just sign them out as drownings to emphasize the fact that not everybody drowned."

Many died from the type of situation the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan are dealing with now. They're living in a hot climate without running clean water or food and with human bodies in the street waiting to be claimed.

Now days since the storm, Minyard says the bodies are likely starting to decompose, bloat beyond recognition and threaten disease.

"Get them buried," he said. "We need to get them buried or cremated. That's the number one  thing that needs to be done. If they can get them identified by just describing how they look - 5'8" 120 pounds - but if they can't, just do a mass grave and get them buried. I think that would help keep down as much of any disease process that would show up."

Minyard draws parallels to what New Orleans was like this many days after Katrina.

"In the beginning, especially off and around Canal Street, every now and then there'd be a dead body laying on the sidewalk or up in some little alcove or something," said Minyard.

However, it's the vision of survivors who were looking for their loved ones that still haunts him the most.

"The sad thing was we had so many people with pictures, carrying pictures, of their loved ones, asking if he was in there, holding them up to the fence. It got so that I was even afraid to walk outside by the fence. You know - 'Is my husband here? Is my son here? This is his picture,'" Minyard said.

It's a vision he knows those working with the dead in the Philippines will likely carry with them, as well, for the rest of their lives, and it's why Minyard says he would go to the Philippines to share his expertise if given the chance.

"I would love to go and do whatever I could," said Minyard. "If someone would offer me an opportunity to do something like that, I certainly would do it."

He says volunteers are going to have a much harder time in the Philippines than they did in and around the region here.

"While we're doing that in this kind of atmosphere, it's altogether different in the field," he said. "You cannot expect to be comfortable there, you cannot expect to have everything at your beck and call. So the people who try to identify and take care of and find relatives to get these loved ones transferred over to their relatives, all of that takes people who have to get used to living in adverse conditions. Sometimes the people who are taking care of the people have heart attacks and die. We had all of that happen, but not on the scale that it's going to happen on the Philippine Islands."

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