70 people were still missing or unreachable on Monday. DVI is on the ground. Explanations from the DVI coordinator, Régis Kalut.
Régis Kalut has been traveling through the flooded areas for three days. He is necrosearch coordinator for DVI Belgium (Disaster Victim Identification). His first flood victim, he identified on the first day of the floods: “It was a person was in town, it had hung on a pole, and witnesses had seen it. He had his identity documents with him. He was identified quickly, in two hours, on the basis of testimonies, and other elements, such as a tattoo. His family was able to quickly begin the process for him.»
Research is continuing, targeting specific places, such as certain districts of Pepinster and the Esneux campsite.
«I asked the Dirco and the governor of Liège to give me one person per police zone – Liège, Secova and Vesdre – a person who knows the terrain well. We have defined together the areas where we must look, because there are piles of waste, where we could find buried bodies. I direct the teams – a dog handler, accompanied by someone from civil protection – towards these predefined areas.»
We don’t look in the water. “ Bodies, like objects, do not stay in the river bed, but settle on the banks. The Ourthe and in the Vesdre are shallow. On the other hand, if a body arrives in the Meuse, which is deep, especially if it is in a car, it takes longer to find it..»
A team of varying sizes
The DVI is made up of only five people. “ But 135 forensic investigators are DVI trained and come to help us when needed. We also have many partners (see opposite) who help us with the ante mortem and post mortem procedures.»
The number 1 partner is civil protection. “She welcomes us in her facilities, gives us equipment. And it is its staff who take care of the handling of the bodies. Civil protection is our partner every day, all year round. »
On Monday, Régis Kalut hired eight dog handlers, four Belgian and four Dutch police to search for the bodies. “Time is not our ally to visually identify victims, but it makes the work of dogs specializing in human remains easier, because they work thanks to the scent.»
How do you hold up when working at DVI? “It is not necessarily difficult. With outside eyes, we think we are still working in death. While we are working for life, for families who need to know, to understand, to have answers. It is motivating to help people in distress to begin a grieving process, to move forward, to recover their loved ones.»
On the family side or on the victim side
The DVI oversees the “ante mortem” surveys, with families, at the town hall of Crisnée “We receive the families of people who have disappeared, explains Régis Kalut. People must answer a very detailed questionnaire, which includes the size of the deceased, his shoe size, if he has had an appendix removed or a knee prosthesis. These answers allow us to compare with the bodies found.
For this part of the work, the DVI works in partnership with the Red Cross, the psycho-social intervention service, which supports families.
It has people who meet families and those who spend their time on the phone and on the computer, getting dental records, x-rays, etc.
«We also work with victim assistants from federal and local police forces, who provide long-term support and assistance to families. They are also the ones who announce the bad news when a body that matches the missing person.»
All the bodies of the victims are sent to Crisnée, in a mobile mortuary made up of refrigerated trucks – demountable morgues. “As we were reaching the end of the capacity, we brought in an additional refrigerated sea containerAdds M. Kalut.
The post-mortem identification work is launched, with a team of forensic scientists, dental experts, and people from the judicial police, who take fingerprints, take DNA and take photos. Prof. Philippe Boxho (ULiège), forensic expert, explains “We note all the characteristics: eye color, hair, scars… and DNA from the victim is also taken. ” Visual identification is complicated by time and prolonged stay in the water: “Putrefaction begins within 24 to 48 hours of death. With maceration in water, soon, we will no longer be able to take fingerprints or identify the presence of scars.. ” For DNA, you have to compare the DNA of the victim with that of the family, and that can take several days.
«We do not only identify on a visual basis, says Régis Kalut. We need things that do not allow doubt: a wedding ring, a knee prosthesis … And if we do not find any convincing evidence, we fall back on primary identifications: fingerprints, dental comparison and DNA..»