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Saturday, September 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Official death toll to take a long time

NEW YORK — Days after Hurricane Katrina struck, nobody can say how many people it killed. And that won't change soon, disaster experts say.

In Mississippi, for example, the confirmed death toll reached 147 yesterday, but Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday, "The official count is really meaningless."

And in Louisiana, where thousands are feared dead in New Orleans, officials say they're still focusing on rescuing people. Nobody has released a firm number of deaths.

Until floodwater is removed from New Orleans along with rubble from there and elsewhere, it will be impossible to determine how many bodies are hidden, said Stephen Morse, founding director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University in New York.

"It would be very surprising to get anything even approximating an accurate number until the water is cleared away," he said yesterday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday it could take weeks to drain the city.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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