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Coroner’s Office still damaged from Hurricane Laura

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 10:26 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - During Hurricane Laura, first responders had their hands full, including the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office.

When you think of first responders, it is easy to forget the vital role the coroner’s office plays.

“Our area was kind of forgotten, being the coroner’s office and the staff here,” said Calcasieu Parish Coroner, Dr. Terry Welke. “I don’t know whether it’s because people don’t think of coroners being first responders, and in a sense, we are.”

The workload grew ten-fold after the storm as they handled multiple carbon monoxide poisonings, accidental deaths, and helped fill in for damaged funeral homes.

“Fortunately, some coroner’s offices on the eastern part of the state offered and allowed us to have a couple of their investigators to come down and assist us because otherwise, we would have been overwhelmed with all the deaths,” Welke said.

Complications with the coroner’s facility dates back to the late 1980′s, according to Welke. Hurricane damage exacerbated the problem. The coroner’s facility is leaking, broken and outdated.

“It was raining at the time, and I had to wait until the rain stopped because rain was coming in the autopsy suite,” Welke said. “The floor in the cooler area where the bodies are kept is rusted, and I don’t know how much longer it will, it’s going to be holding up. The doors have to be fixed from time to time. Sometimes they close on their own. Sometimes we need to give them a little extra budge.”

Dr. Welke calls the repairs that have been made a Band-Aid.

“Whatever would arise, we would just deal with it the best we could, and I imagine that’s what we would do in the future,” Welke said.

One year later, Dr. Welke said the need for a new building is still growing, yet there’s no timeline on if or when it will happen.

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