Katrina Recovery Effort Delayed, May Hinder Identification Process

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 9, 2005 — -- One of the other major challenges officials in New Orleans face in the days and weeks ahead is recovering the dead. Federal officials here now say they have not found nearly as many dead bodies as local officials had predicted.

"I think that there's some encouragement in what we found in the initial sweeps -- that some of the catastrophic deaths that some people predicted may not have occurred," said New Orleans Homeland Security Director Col. Terry Ebbert.

But while the number of dead may be lower than forecast, there are still bodies all over the city.

Recovery Effort Hasn't Started

ABC News learned today the large-scale effort to recover those bodies hasn't even started.

The process has been stalled by a dispute between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco.

A source in the governor's office tells ABC News, "a number of local, legal and jurisdictional issues have to be worked through."

Meanwhile, thousands of anguished people displaced by Hurricane Katrina await word about missing family members.

"I don't know, I don't know where they're at," said one tearful evacuee, Robert Drummer.

"I'm still missing eight family members," said George Eggins, another evacuee. "I want to see if they are going to let me go to the morgue and identify my people."

The process of collecting bodies -- including one body, which until recently sat right in the city center -- has been marked by confusion.

During a Wednesday news conference, a FEMA official announced that a spot on an interstate highway would serve as the location for a "temporary morgue."

But ABC News found bodies simply lying on the side of the road in the open sun. Two days after FEMA's announcement, the bodies have not been moved.

State wildlife officials, who were working right beside the bodies, said they had to focus on the living.

One of the officials, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agent Bobby Gomillion, said the bodies were not his agency's responsibility. "Not at this time," he said.

A giant morgue has now been set up outside the city, but even when large numbers of bodies are brought in, the delay may make the identification process more difficult.

The longer bodies are left in the heat and the water, the quicker they decompose. Many evacuees may never know what happened to their loved ones.

ABC News' Dan Harris filed this report for "World News Tonight."