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Rescuers find 22 bodies lashed together in St. Bernard Parish

VIOLET, La.—The 22 people died together.

Police believe they tried to escape the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina lashed to one another with a rope.

Rescuers found them last week in this village just east of New Orleans.

No one has identified them yet. No one has tried to figure out who they were or how they knew each other or how far they had come before a rescue crew found them wrapped around a pole.

Police here in St. Bernard Parish have to spend their time on the living. Nearly every building in this parish of 70,000 people was wiped out in the storm.

Rescuers have spent nearly every moment looking for survivors trapped in attics, stranded on balconies, stuck up in trees.

So Sheriff Jack Stephens can't give a lot of details about deaths in the parish. What he has is numbers.

Thirty died over at St. Rita Nursing Home. Eleven died down at the hospital at Chalmette.

About 100 bodies have been found in the parish so far. Stephens says the final count could be five times that many.

Violet sits on the east bank of the Mississippi River. It caught the worst of the hurricane. You can tell people used to live here but you can't tell it was ever a town.

So many rescue teams from so many places have been through that Stephens isn't sure who found the bodies first. He remembers not hearing the news right at the beginning. At first he thought somebody had found the bodies and gathered them together with the rope to be picked up later.

But when a second crew went out again on Wednesday they found the victims tied together one by one. Stephens says he and his deputies believe the victims connected themselves to one another so they could leave the floodwaters together.

The bodies were taken to a temporary morgue, awaiting efforts to identify them.

"I hope we can find out who they are," he says. "I don't know if we'll ever find out why."


(Tomlinson reports for The Charlotte Observer.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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