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Families find more Katrina victims

More than a month after the official search ended for victims of Hurricane Katrina the death toll has jumped by 104 as some returning families in New Orleans continue to find bodies.

Many of the newly discovered victims are elderly people who sought refuge in attics and upper floors from the rising waters throughout the devastated 9th Ward section of the city, said Frank Minyard, the coroner in greater New Orleans.

"Some people are just now getting back to their homes and to the homes of their relatives," Minyard said. "The bodies are still coming in."

When Louisiana ended its door-to-door search Oct. 3, the number of deaths stood at 972. This week, the total reached 1,076, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

Since Nov. 1, Minyard said, his office has picked up eight to 10 victims; the coroner said there is no way to determine how many more are left.

The decision to end the official search for victims triggered harsh criticism last month from Jack Stephens, sheriff of ravaged St. Bernard Parish.

He said state authorities never completely searched some of the most heavily damaged areas where many elderly residents lived when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

"For people to come home to that damage and then to make that gruesome discovery — that doesn't seem fair to me," Stephens said. "The whole body-recovery operation has not been what you would consider a model plan."

Most of the bodies recovered in the aftermath of Katrina have been transported to a makeshift morgue in St. Gabriel, La. Minyard and other medical examiners have been working there to identify and reunite victims with their families.

Family members have complained that death records were incomplete or inaccurate, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Minyard has defended the work at St. Gabriel, saying medical examiners have worked tirelessly to complete an unprecedented task.

"We don't know where the next-of-kin are" in some cases, he said.

But Monday, Stephens described the St. Gabriel operation as a "disaster."

He said the body of a local hurricane-related suicide victim, which had been taken to St. Gabriel a few weeks ago, could not be located for a few days after inquiries were made by the family.

In St. Bernard, Stephens said authorities are still searching remote areas for remains.

He estimated that 25 to 30 people still are unaccounted for.

"We're still out here looking," Stephens said.