published Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Death numbers rise, prolonging ‘process’

by Chris Carroll

A DeKalb County, Ala., resident died this week from injuries received in recent storms, raising its weather-related death toll to at least 34, according to a source at the county’s emergency management agency.

The source at the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency confirmed the new number late Tuesday. DeKalb County reported 33 deaths Sunday morning.

Also on Tuesday, Erlanger Health System officials announced a DeKalb County child’s death, but subsequently declined to distribute further details about the child, including gender, age or exactly when he or she died, citing patient privacy laws.

Erlanger officials said the child died at the hospital before Sunday, raising questions about the latest DeKalb County death.

Yasamie R. August, a spokeswoman for Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said state authorities are verifying fatality reports from each county. She wouldn’t confirm any death totals for the state.

“When that process is complete, the number will be released,” she said.

Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said the hospital decided to announce the pediatric fatality Tuesday as part of an effort to dispel several child-related rumors swirling on social networking websites.

“The rumor that there are unidentified pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger with storm related injuries [is] unfounded,” an Erlanger news release stated, adding that each hospitalized infant and child has been “identified and is with family members.”

Charles expressed confusion about how to report hospital deaths that occurred because of the storm. In a similar situation in 2009, hospitals reported swine flu deaths to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

“There’s no clearinghouse this time,” Charles said. “I guess we’re all learning how to do this.”

Erlanger reported no adult casualties at the hospital since last week’s tornadoes and thunderstorms, but officials said more than one child in treatment lost a parent.

“My understanding is no orphans,” Charles said.

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