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Dr. Robert Raynor

The task of identifying bodies recovered after the flood fell mainly to three local physicians, a pathologist from the state medical examiner’s office in Roanoke and a dentist.

Rockfish Valley physician Dr. Robert Raynor spent the first few days after the disaster at the command center in Lovingston. Raynor, who died in 2017, told The News & Advance of his memories of Hurricane Camille in 2009.

A refrigerated trailer donated by Morton Foods was set up behind the Sheffield Funeral Home in Lovingston to store the bodies. Autopsies were conducted in an Army tent behind the funeral home.

In the initial days, many of the dead were identified by county doctors who recognized their patients or by family members, Raynor said. Teams eventually managed to narrow down the number of unidentified dead to 30 bodies, which had been so battered that most needed autopsies for identification.

“The current they had been in was so strong that it had even taken off their rings, high school rings and wedding rings,” Raynor said in 2009. “Any means of identification they had was gone.”

Lovingston dentist George Criswell, who also died in 2017, used dental x-rays to help identify the bodies. Criswell told The News & Advance in 2009 that despite the refrigeration, the smell of decaying corpses was so intense he began smoking cigars to cover the odor.

“When I came home, I took off all my clothes outside in the breezeway and left my shoes out there and went into the shower,” Criswell said.

In the end, all but eight people were identified.

Criswell kept the dental records he collected in 1969 of the dead, missing and unidentified, in the hopes they would help if any more of the missing were to be found.

But no one came forward to claim those records.

T

he task of identifying bodies recovered after the flood fell mainly to three local physicians, a pathologist from the state medical examiner’s office in Roanoke and a dentist.

Rockfish Valley physician Dr. Robert Raynor spent the first few days after the disaster at the command center in Lovingston. Raynor, who died in 2017, told The News & Advance of his memories of Hurricane Camille in 2009.

A refrigerated trailer donated by Morton Foods was set up behind the Sheffield Funeral Home in Lovingston to store the bodies. Autopsies were conducted in an Army tent behind the funeral home.

In the initial days, many of the dead were identified by county doctors who recognized their patients or by family members, Raynor said. Teams eventually managed to narrow down the number of unidentified dead to 30 bodies, which had been so battered that most needed autopsies for identification.

“The current they had been in was so strong that it had even taken off their rings, high school rings and wedding rings,” Raynor said in 2009. “Any means of identification they had was gone.”

Lovingston dentist George Criswell, who also died in 2017, used dental x-rays to help identify the bodies. Criswell told The News & Advance in 2009 that despite the refrigeration, the smell of decaying corpses was so intense he began smoking cigars to cover the odor.

“When I came home, I took off all my clothes outside in the breezeway and left my shoes out there and went into the shower,” Criswell said.

In the end, all but eight people were identified.

Criswell kept the dental records he collected in 1969 of the dead, missing and unidentified, in the hopes they would help if any more of the missing were to be found.

But no one came forward to claim those records. 

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Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

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