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November 16, 2005

Katrina death toll

Pam Spaulding has an update on the disgracefully slow progress of body recovery and identification in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She points to this transcript from last night's Anderson Cooper 360:

ANDERSON COOPER: Well, we pledged we would keep -- be keeping them honest there in New Orleans, holding the authorities to their promises. And one of the promises was that the dead would be identified and returned to their families as quickly as possible.

Earlier, I spoke to Saint Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: You warned us October 3. When the state stopped house- to-house searching for -- for -- for the deceased, you said, it was a bad idea, that there were more people out there. Now the death toll, it turns out, has jumped by 104. And -- and families are returning to find the bodies of their loved ones still in their homes. How does -- it's got to infuriate you.

JACK STEPHENS, SAINT BERNARD PARISH SHERIFF: Well, you know, you just wonder what provoked that decision.

A month ago, we were still very much in the midst of a -- of a crisis. And the National Guard was conducting the house-to-house searches. And if you go through, Anderson, the neighborhoods right now that were searched then, a lot of them bear the mark of "N.E.," which means no entry.

I was always under the impression that there would be a hard- target search at some point following that to determine whether or not there were any casualties left in those dwellings. As of right now -- in fact, the day before yesterday, in my own jurisdiction, a family came home to discover a family member who had been reported missing.

Now the Orleans Parish Coroner is willing to admit the initial house-to-house searches weren't going to be enough:

CNN REPORTER: Since November 1, 10 bodies have been found in the ruins of the Ninth Ward. The last area, known as the Lower Ninth, will open to residents December 1. Coroner Frank Minyard worries about what people will find.

(on camera): You're fully expecting that more bodies will come in once they open the Ninth Ward?

FRANK MINYARD, ORLEANS PARISH CORONER: Yes. And I think it's -- it's going to come in for a good while. There's so much rubbish around that they might find people in the rubbish. [Anderson Cooper/CNN]

It was obvious from the beginning that initial searches were going to miss a lot of people. I wrote about this when I was in New Orleans on September 10th.

Throughout the city, buildings that appeared structurally unsound or securely boarded up were counted as having been searched after external inspection. In some neighborhoods, we saw multiple 2-and 3-square-block areas where all the houses were marked "external search only." Searchers told us that they were under orders not to break and enter unless they observed signs of life. This perfectly sensible rule had the entirely forseeable consequence that hundreds of homes that had been flooded to to the rooftops weren't going to be searched inside until their owners returned.

Calling off the search prematurely was a separate outrage. House-to-house searches were called off on October 3 with many houses in the Lower Ninth still completely unsearched. The search was subsequently resumed after a public outcry.

It seems that the authorities deliberately mislead the public about what they could expect to find when they returned. FEMA clearly wanted to downplay the death toll, and Mayor Nagin was desperate to repopulate the city as soon as possible. The authorities didn't tell the public about the entirely forseeable limitations of the search.

Once again, the citizens of New Orleans were left on their own.

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The November 2005 issue of Smithsonian has an article about the Mississippi flood of 1927, before Katrina the nation's greatest disaster.

Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, was placed "in charge of the rescue, care and rehabilitation of nearly a million people." He did rather better at it than his recent successors.

However, breaking a promise he made during his election campaign "snapped the emotional connection between the national African-American leadership and the GOP, and made it easier for Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt to attract black support for his policies four years later."

The full text (though not the photos) is online here.

Even with the house to house search called off, it seemed obvious that the death toll stopped climbing much faster than it should have. But I'm wondering if we can expect a sudden bump of 517. I've yet to see any follow up in either the local or national press to the late Sept. stories about missing OPP inmates; a google search yields nothing current either.

The fact that no relatives have organized protests would lead one to think it's a non-story, but family members would also be scattered and without resources. Usually even non-stories have some kind of follow up story burried somewhere that a Google search can turn up.

Anybody notices Majikthise comes out third in google search on 'katrina death toll'?

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