Saturday, January 21, 2006

Corpses 'lost' in post-Katrina bureaucracy

Sometimes the news will break your heart and make you angry at the same time. That's the case in the story about Eldo and Julia Allen's search for their son an daughter-in-law, whom they last heard from the day before Hurricane Katrina scraped across Biloxi, Miss, where they lived. Here's the AP account:

"[The Allens] waited for nearly four months, not knowing the horrific truth: that their son and daughter-in-law died as the storm surge swallowed their Beach Boulevard apartment. That their bodies had long since been found and identified at the Harrison County, Miss., coroner's office. And that they were about to be ``disposed of'' after going so long unclaimed.

"The agencies the Allens had been calling all those months hadn't contacted the coroner, and the coroner hadn't checked with the agencies. "

Worse, the son and daughter-in-law's corpses were designated as having no known relatives, then cremated. The Allens' labyrinthine journey through the tangled and kinked bureacracies of FEMA, Red Cross, the Mississippi coroner, Social Security and other agencies ended just before the "authorities" were to "dispose of" the unclaimed ashes ... only five months since the storm!

Some 4,200 people are still missing since Hurricane Katrina. Some are probably not dead, but relocated. Some might have been duplicated by careless clerks. But many are dead and some of them are likely reduced to ashes by the feckless boobs we expect to protect us from storms and other disasters. Many have probably already been dumped in paupers' or mass graves, or worse.

FEMA isn't woefully inefficient because of the laughably inept Michael Brown ... it is a culture of waste and incompetence ... and this is an agency that we expect to help protect our safety, lives and homes. The Red Cross is only marginally better, but only because its workers have humane motivations. And in 131 days, a new hurricane season -- already predicted to be a killer -- starts again ... and we haven't even found all the victims of the last one.

Instead of looking for new handouts from millionaire swindler/lobbyists, and quibbling over whether a Supreme Court nominee's name is prounced "Alito" or "Alioto" ... or writing children's books from the perspective of a dog ... why can't Congress enact laws that prevent the disposal of bodies from the Katrina disaster until all efforts to identify them have been exhausted?

UPDATE: Coroner Gary Hargrove of Harrison County, Miss., called me on April 3, 2006, to clarify that the Allens' misrepresented the facts in their tragic case. He says their son and daughter-in-law's bodies were never designated as having no relatives and cremated; they were returned as soon as the Allens had made appropriate proof and arrangements. Hargrove claims the delays in making the connections are not entriely explainable, although he wonders why the Allens didn't contact his office directly with questions when they suspected their children might be dead. Hargrove also says an AP reporter who originally wrote the story never interviewed him until it was too late. Hargrove cannot explain why FEMA, the Red Cross or other agencies weren't able to help in thise case, but that his office did nothing wrong.


jenny said...

I think the victims of Katrina deserve no less than the kind of diligent determination to identify victims that was exercised for the 9/11 victims. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Love, Rita said...

How very sad. But all true. We haven't even found all of the corpses from the last hurricane season,and we're facing another of the same magnitude! Our bloated, corrupt bureaucracy deserves its pitiful reputation. I am also quite ashamed of the comments recently made by N.O. mayor Ray Nagin (i.e., in reference to the "chocolate" city), and I am glad I live on the other side of the state!