York County Emergency Management Director Cotton Howell left for Haiti this morning to assist with the relief and recovery efforts in the nation that was struck by an earthquake Tuesday. He will be responsible for deploying mortuary teams to recover and identify remains.
“I am the commander of the federal government’s disaster mortuary operations team. I’m taking a four person team and our responsibilities will be to assess what the damage is and the number of fatalities,” Howell said.
He will not only recover the victims’ bodies, he will also help those that may be still alive.
“Certainly life safety becomes a priority over fatality management,” he said.
Howell led similar efforts after 9/11 in New York City and Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. He knows the task ahead is a grim one.
“We will deploy, if our assessment sees that is what we need, one of those complete morgues and they are complete with all of the stat-of-the-art forensic equipment, self contained to do whatever is needed to conduct a forensic exam,” he said.
Howell and his team will work to identify the bodies of victims with the hope of eventually returning the remains to the victims’ families.
“First thing is going to be to recover them, get them into an environment where we can slow decomposition and try to begin that identification process. Again number one is to get the bodies recovered as quickly as possible and get them to a secure location,” he said.
Howell said, right now, there is no timeline for when the process will be complete.