‘Unofficial’ Death Toll Rising in NOLA?

From Scout:

WaPo looks at the growing belief in NOLA that a rise in the mortality rate for NOLA area residents is due to stress Post Katrina. The Times Picayune is seeing a rise in reported deaths with an increase of 25% this January compared to January 2005. Funeral directors report they are burying as many people as last year though the city’s population is now less than half of what it was before Katrina. Families experiencing the loss of loved ones attribute the deaths to Post Katrina stress.

Ronald Chisom said his 84-year-old mother, Evelyn Comeaux, was doing just fine before Katrina. She took her medications but she could get out and about a lot of the time. “She liked to go to the casino with her girlfriends,” Chisom, 64, said. When the floodwaters came, Comeaux was rescued by helicopter, taken to the airport, flown to Austin and then eventually to Houston where she was reunited with her son, who had lost his home in the flood.

Chisom, executive director of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a group that fights racism, noticed that over the next few months his mother’s health deteriorated rapidly. “She would say, ‘I’m really tired,’ and ‘I’m uncomfortable,’ ” Chisom said. He thinks now that she was not only talking about her physical state, but also about her circumstances and her life.

While he was in Washington at a fundraiser, he received a call from his daughter that Comeaux had died. “I know stress. . . .” he said, “The stress of everything got to her. It’s getting to me.”


Billy Henry, 57, of Bultman Funeral Home on St. Charles Avenue, said, “We definitely have seen an unbelievable increase.”

“The number of deaths has increased,” agreed Michael Kelly, 37, of the Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home and Cemeteries. His company, which owns three funeral homes in the New Orleans area, buried as many people, maybe a few more, this January as in January last year. The difference is that the population has dropped dramatically — from more than a million in the Gulf Coast area to less than 600,000.


Another funeral director, Mike Misshore, 46, of Gertrude Geddes Willis Funeral Home, said, “Go out to Delta Airlines at the airport. You’ll see a lot of people coming in.” He was talking about dead people.

As a former social worker I have certainly seen people debilitated from less trauma than losing everything….home, work, neighborhood, friends, daily normal life. This is trauma heaped upon trauma without the usual supports one would utilize to cope with it. It would not surprise me at all if people’s conclusions based on this anectodal information were valid. I hope I’ll be able to find out more on mental health care in NOLA when I’m down there next week.