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Deaths of evacuees push toll to 1,577
The first stories of death came quickly and immediately: New Orleans area residents drowning in fetid floodwaters, succumbing in sweltering attics or being swept out to sea.
But state officials say that for weeks after it made landfall Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina kept claiming Louisiana victims, often in more subtle fashion and often in other states: elderly and ill evacuees too fragile for grueling trips on gridlocked highways, infants stillborn to mothers who were shuttled to other cities when they should have been on bed rest and residents overcome with anxiety by 24-hour television broadcasts of the devastation back home.
Because of a continuing rise in reports of out-of-state deaths, Louisiana's official Katrina toll jumped 22 percent on Thursday, to 1,577 deaths, when the Department of Health and Hospitals added 281 more victims to the count. Texas alone accounted for 223 deaths of the increase.
And the work is far from finished. Only 32 states, representing 480 deaths, have filed their reports with Louisiana officials.
State Medical Examiner Louis Cataldie said he and his staff are preparing to examine every case to determine whether each death was indeed storm-related. The work will be tedious, but the ultimate goal is to define the mortal scope of Katrina's tragedy.
"Folks need to know, what are the true consequences of a catastrophe," Cataldie said.
Patricia O'Neil knows.
At 81, her aunt, Rita Parker, wasn't the picture of perfect health. Parker had bronchitis and was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. But O'Neil and another of Parker's nieces, Jo Ann Owen, said their aunt was nowhere near gravely ill.
Parker and her husband, Sam, 84, were a social pair who never missed a high school reunion, always had a vacation planned and kept the front yard of their Jefferson home neatly trimmed.
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