FEMA getting in the way of New Orleans autopsies

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still screwing up disaster response to Hurricane Katrina, according to various news reports.

The man in charge of identifying most of those killed by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Coroner Frank Minyard, complained Thursday that federal regulations had unnecessarily slowed that process.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency — which is responsible for keeping the morgue operational — sometimes shuts it down with hours left in the workday, Minyard said. During an afternoon news conference at FEMA headquarters here, the coroner said that on Thursday, federal officials told his people to stop conducting autopsies at 11:30 a.m., despite a backlog of 300 bodies.

Minyard said he needed more pathologists to perform autopsies but FEMA would not allow its doctors to assist.

His grievances were the latest lodged against FEMA, which has been criticized for its sluggish response to Katrina and its inability to get many of the evacuees into housing. — Los Angeles Times

In other FEMA news, the new head David Paulison has said that FEMA will go back and revisit the no-bid contracts handed out after Hurricane Katrina hit.

“I’ve been a public servant for a long time, and I’ve never been a fan of no-bid contracts,’ Paulison told a Senate panel investigating the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to the hurricane.

“Sometimes you have to do them because of the expediency of getting things done. And I can assure that you we are going to look at all of those contracts very carefully.’

“All of those no-bid contracts, we are going to go back and rebid,’ he said of pacts that were worth millions of dollars. — Associated Press

So there’s good news, I guess.

Now about the living: the ACLU has filed a suit and alleged that prisoners in the New Orleans jail were abandoned for days without food and water in rising floodwaters.

It took three days to evacuate over 6,000 inmates from the lockup after the storm hit on Aug. 29, prison authorities have said. The prisoners are now being held at 38 state and local lockups around Louisiana.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s court filings demand information about where each prisoner is locked up. The group also wants the sheriff’s office to halt any clean up at the jail because it could destroy evidence that prisoners were left standing in bacteria- and petroleum-laden floodwater.

A spokeswoman for Sheriff Marlin Gusman said in an e-mail that the sheriff had not yet been served with the papers.

Gusman has acknowledged previously that a loss of electricity plunged the jail into darkness, with no electricity or working toilets, creating an oppressive, foul-smelling atmosphere.

But he denied inmates’ most shocking accusations: that corpses were floating through the facility and some prisoners went for days without food and water. He said prisoners, his staff and their families had food from the prison, plus MREs supplied by the military. — Associated Press

What really happened? I guess we’ll find out.