Oregon State Police have opened the first-ever mobile morgue in response to historic wildfires that are expected to result in dozens of deaths.
The morgue was set up in a state facility in Linn County. A separate facility is expected to open this week where families of the dead and missing can undergo rapid DNA testing to aid in identification.
So far, the state has reported 10 deaths from the wildfires. Another 50 people are unaccounted for, a number that officials stress is fluid and may rise as recovery efforts continue. Of those 22 are confirmed as missing, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
Oregon State Police Capt. Tim Fox urged people whose loved ones are presumed missing to report those cases to their local sheriff’s offices. People may list themselves as safe or search the registry here.
The state has activated a 75-member regional response team to recover remains in the field and operate the mobile morgue. The state received grant funding for the program a dozen years ago and has trained for such an event ever since but has never had to use it.
The state is relying on dozens of experts such as certified death investigators, law enforcement personnel, criminalists and forensic scientists to aid in the effort, said Cathy Phelps, who is overseeing the team.
Phelps said once remains arrive at the facility, an official will remain with them at all times as they are processed.
The process includes fingerprinting, dental and X-ray stations, as well as an examination by forensic anthropologists and pathologists.
“We have set up a small city here,” she said.
Fox said out-of-state resources, including equipment and workers, are on the way to Oregon to aid in the identification of remains. He said the state is awaiting a machine that will perform rapid DNA testing on relatives of those who are missing or dead.
©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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