This story has angered me for months. (See Part I here and Part II here) The official search for bodies in NOLA ended on October 3rd even though it was known bodies remained in homes, many not yet even searched at that time.(most by far in the predominately black 9th Ward) To their credit a handful of local fireman did try to keep up the search. But it is a very difficult task. Searching for remains in the 9/11 rubble was also overwhelming but we did it. Yet in the case of Katrina almost 6 months have passed and bodies remain still. Families are left with nothing but questions and a uniquely disturbing heartbreak. It is a story that just continues to haunt us or at least should….
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A grim sign, and the only indication that, today, yet another body has been removed from a New Orleans home, nearly six months after Katrina.
DR. LOUIS CATALDIE, LOUISIANA STATE CORONER: Put this in the person’s mouth.
CALLEBS: Normally, doctors would use forensic techniques to try to identify the body. But the state medical examiner, Dr. Louis Cataldie, says he no longer has the equipment. Why? FEMA built this enormous new morgue about an hour north of New Orleans to do just this kind of examination on what authorities feared would be 10,000 to 20,000 people killed in the storm. It cost $17 million.
But after examining only 60 bodies, FEMA shut it down Monday, saying its work was done, and keeping it open would cost $230,000 a week.
CATALDIE: Well, would I like to have the use of the facility? Sure. Do I understand that there’s a timeline and there’s a — you know, they — they need to pull their stuff out? Absolutely.
CALLEBS: FEMA officials didn’t want to go on camera, but pointed out that they told Cataldie in December they would be closing the site. Still, FEMA has no clear plans for the facility, so the bunkbeds, washers and dryers and gym equipment for its staff are being mothballed — the high-tech autopsy gear already shipped out.
Cataldie says, he thought, by now, most of the 2,100 people still listed as missing would have been accounted for. But, as it turns out, he’s still expecting to find scores more bodies.
CATALDIE: We certainly feel we have, depending on rough, rough estimates, 60 to 100 bodies in the Ninth Ward, so, folks that need to be recovered.
(Continues after the jump)
CALLEBS: But in a sign of just how many problems New Orleans faces and how those problems are so often connected, not only is the $17 million morgue off limits; the city also doesn’t have the $400,000 it would cost to find the bodies, and hasn’t been able to get the money from FEMA.
STEVE GLYNN, RESIDENT OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: It’s — it’s extremely frustrating. And it has — it has — it has been frustrating since we — since we shut down.
CALLEBS: Steve Glynn is the chief of the fire department special ops unit. From October until December 10, he worked with teams using cadaver dogs, going through the debris from splintered homes. He tells CNN, the dogs made at least 58 hits, meaning probable human remains.
FEMA says, the city should go ahead and look for the bodies, and then ask FEMA to reimburse it for the $400,000 it costs. The cash- strapped city says, it needs the money first, because it only has enough cash to pay firefighters for emergency operations.
GLYNN: You know, I have talked to a number of officials. And it always just kind of seems to go in a circle. We — we always end up right back where we started.
LAMONT MARRERO, NEW ORLEANS SPECIAL OPERATIONS UNIT CHIEF: And I don’t — I don’t understand that.
CALLEBS: Lamont Marrero’s invalid mother rode out the hurricane in her house. No one has seen her since. He’s convinced she’s buried in debris.
MARRERO: You have 58 bodies, and you’re not trying to do anything. You’re going to close a facility, and people haven’t — people are still looking for their family.
CALLEBS: That’s right. The government spent $17 million to build this facility, but now is closing it before it has even figured out how to recover and identify the rest of the bodies still buried in the debris.
To families here, it all looks like yet another bureaucratic dead end.
(on camera): I spoke with a FEMA representative in Washington, D.C., and she says she believes that need $400,000 will quickly be freed up, putting firefighters back on the job and hopefully ending months of anguish for scores of families here.
This raises questions in 3 areas for me. First racism. Yes the lack of a search did impact parts of St. Bernard Parish which is predominately white but it has been a huge factor in the predominately black 9th Ward. Do you think a white middle class area in America would not be searched or searched and bodies not recovered? I just don’t think so.
Second issue is the death toll. Do they want to keep it down? I think if this were a terrorist attack they’d count every body to forever point to the evils of terrorism. But when it is a natural disaster, which the government rendered an even greater disaster due to incompetence and neglect, then a large death toll only calls attention to and affirms their failure. Are they purposely suppressing the death toll to avoid this?
Last, perhaps they simply not give a damn. If that is the case what does that say of the “values” of the Bush administration?