Thursday, January 22, 2009

Change of pace for this post...update on Katrina

Yesterday while I was out, I bought a USAToday paper. Mostly I bought it because of the picture on the front and the headline:

Dawn of 'a new era'

Well worth the dollar with a picture of our new president and first lady walking down Pennsylvania Avenue waving at the people lined up in the cold to see them. How exciting for everyone to actually see them walking.

But, I want to talk about something else. I turned inside to read the "rest of the story" as Paul Harvey always says and on page 3A just above the fold there was a story that caught my eye.

43 Katrina victims still a mystery

You can also find it online. But in seeing that headline I was struck by the fact that here we are over 3 years from Katrina, and the man who just vacated 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was so adament about how the federal government handled Katrina.

Remember his statement the other day... how forceful he we all were just in shock that he could be so deluded about the real facts.

Well, here is some of the proof.
Here, in these mausoleums, are 43 bodies of unidentified victims — people whose fingerprints, dental records and DNA were not enough to shed light on who they were. Three-and-a-half years after the torrential floods killed 1,500 people across the Gulf Coast and put 80% of New Orleans under water, workers in the city's forensic center are still trying to close the book on Katrina's final chapter.

Chilling isn't it? To think there are still these victims waiting on someone to claim them, still people working trying to find out who they were, that they care enough to give the time and the effort even though this:

By summer 2006, however, the federal teams had pulled out of the effort, funding had dried up and the DNA analysts were going home. The bells and air horns had slowed from a few each day to one every other week, McGill said. It was getting harder to identify victims, even as more were being discovered around the city.

So, tell me again former occupent of 1600, how well was the federal response to Katrina?? How did that "Heck of a job, Brownie" work for you?? Because I sure don't think it has worked for me. And I don't believe it has worked for a lot of others either.

I was struck by this item in the scope and magnitude of this and by the dedication of these people. I commend them for doing their job, for sticking with it through it all. They truly are the unsung heroes here.

"We haven't given up," says Julia Powers, a forensic investigator leading the effort. "That's the goal: to have everyone identified."

Hurricane Katrina sparked one of the largest and most complicated forensic efforts in U.S. history. Unlike the terrorist attacks of 9/11, where victims generally died at work, Katrina wiped out hospitals, homes, dental offices — and their records. That's made it hard to match DNA samples, said Dr. Louis Cataldie, who was appointed lead medical examiner after the storm.

"I was a coroner for 10 years, and I'd never seen anything like that," Cataldie said. "Nothing prepared you for what we saw during Katrina."

Shortly after Katrina barreled ashore on Aug. 29, 2005, state officials in Baton Rouge created a team to process the torrent of bodies being brought in from across the state, mostly from New Orleans. All together, more than 900 bodies were discovered in and around New Orleans, said Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard, who helped with the effort.

Headed by Cataldie, the team also included members of the FBI, dentists, DNA experts and members of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT), a federally-funded group that identifies disaster victims.

Counselors were brought in to help the forensic teams. "That was a life-changing event for me," Minyard, 72, said. "I lost a lot of joy in my heart."

The team made progress. By December 2005, only 220 bodies remained anonymous. A team of DNA analysts set up shop in another Baton Rouge warehouse, sifting through the DNA samples and comparing them to a growing database of reported missing persons, said Kelly McGill, a forensic scientist from Kansas who worked with the team.

Each time a missing person was found alive, a bell would ring in the warehouse, she said. An air horn signaled each time a body was identified. Either sound drew an eruption of applause and cheers from the scientists, she said.

"I felt grateful," she said. "I know I was doing what I could to help."

These people really need to be respected for doing a great job, and a terrible job. To have to deal with the horrific remains they had to, some of the remains were in water for days and weeks. Some were unable to be identified by any normal means. Yet, they have worked tirelessly for over 3 years to try to identify everyone of these people.

How dedicated and loyal are these people to their fellow citizens of New Orleans and of Louisana.

Julia Powers, gave up her job in New Mexico to stay with it because she just couldn't walk away.
Powers, a volunteer member of DMORT, asked her boss at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque for more time to keep identifying bodies. When she was refused, Powers, 47, quit her job as a researcher and moved to New Orleans. Now employed by the Orleans Parish coroner's office, she helped whittle the number of unidentified victims from 200 to 80 to 43, mostly by talking with families, running down leads and gumshoe investigating.

As I said, this is another part of the legacy of the former occupent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I am sure as time goes on we will be seeing more and more of these kinds of things.

I am so thankful that we now have someone in the White House who can help set these things right. Here is the statement from the White House web site pretaining to Katrina:
President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He and Vice President Biden will take steps to ensure that the federal government will never again allow such catastrophic failures in emergency planning and response to occur.

President Obama swiftly responded to Hurricane Katrina. Citing the Bush Administration's "unconscionable ineptitude" in responding to Hurricane Katrina, then-Senator Obama introduced legislation requiring disaster planners to take into account the specific needs of low-income hurricane victims. Obama visited thousands of Hurricane survivors in the Houston Convention Center and later took three more trips to the region. He worked with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to introduce legislation to address the immediate income, employment, business, and housing needs of Gulf Coast communities.

President Barack Obama will partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to rebuild now, stronger than ever.

It looks like they will finally have the help they need to rebuild and get back to where they were.

Thank goodness, we finally have a grown up in the White House. Isn't it wonderful!!!


Annette said...

One of the comments under the online story was:
dddoctor wrote: 17h 24m ago
W Bush was the 43rd president and there are 43 unidentified victims. Coincidence? - I think not!!!

Never thought of it...but how

Fran said...

There are still people in toxic trailers, and homes left abandoned.
At the very least, they should make some kind of notification process- to have destroyed homeowners consent to have the toxic mold ruined homes razed & removed. the gvmnt did not make such an attempt, as it gets messy w private ownership & waiting on insurance responses (often floods & acts of god are specifically not covered in policies).... to at lease clear away unusable places of the ruined debris.

Enough years have gone by now..... they should either get permission of get them declared as abandoned. Clean it up & move forward.
So many never returned & you can't blame them.

Perhaps the lowest & worst flooded areas should not be rebuilt.

Annette said...

I know much left to do there. One of the best things about Pres. Obama is that he is promising to clear it up. I am hoping he will keep that promise, hopefully in the stimulus package there will be money to help fix some of that stuff...