Searchers smashed through doors in New Orleans in hunt for the dead to homes that had been locked and to blocks hardest hit by Katrina's flooding. Behind those doors, officials said they expected a sharply escalating body count even as the overall death toll passed 1,000.
"There still could be quite a few, especially in the deepest flooded areas," U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jeffrey Pettitt, who is overseeing the retrieval of bodies, said Wednesday. "Some of the houses, they haven't been in yet." Officials said searchers are beginning to find more children.
The death toll in Louisiana stood at 799 on Wednesday, an increase of 153 bodies since the weekend and nearly 80 percent of the 1,036 deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina across the Gulf Coast region. Pettitt and other officials would not speculate on what the final tally could be. They said the effort could last another four to six weeks.
About 500 people are involved in the search of locked homes, the third and most intense phase of the recovery effort. Initially, authorities made a hasty sweep through neighborhoods to identify the living and dead. That was followed by a door-to-door search, though locked doors were off-limits.
Previously, they had not entered unless they saw a body or heard someone inside. Now, even a high water mark on the side of a home was enough to allow them to go in.
At one home, Capt. Edan Jacobs of the Miami-Dade Fire Department kicked at a door a dozen times, then used a sledgehammer. The searchers, wearing special masks to ward off the mold and stench, sometimes have to go to three different entrances before they find one not blocked by refrigerators or couches.
Police officers and National Guardsmen stood by, weapons ready, as emaciated dogs circled.
"We try not to destroy the homes, but we have to get inside," said fire department Lt. Eric Baum. "Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures,” reports the AP.