Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Remembering All the Dead on All Saints Day

Today, remembers her dead.

It is a deeply rooted part of the city’s Catholic heritage that Nov. 1 is the day when New Orleanians visit their cemeteries and remember those who’ve passed. When I was growing up, Memorial Day was just another bank holiday. We’d all been to the beach long before the end of the end of May, and calendars back then still carried Confederate Memorial Day listed among the holidays.

So, in honor of the holiday, I want to announced: today the death toll for Hurricane stands 1,055, about where it's been for the last month.

Today, more than two months after the storm and it’s flood, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists over 1,000 children who are missing, or who can’t locate their parents. That's an improvement over the 2,500 the last time we reported a figure, but still a staggering number.

The same organization has a list of missing from Louisiana that runs to 147 pages, current as of 10/14, a list that would total some 7,000 lost souls.

Others lists are just as long. The Times-Picayune’s missing database still lists over 1,000 entries. KatrinaSOS.org lists 1,024 pages at 20 per page of people, half of them missing. That would be 10,000.

Why, in the day of the cellular telephone, the fax machine and the Internet, is anyone still listed as missing?

Some of these missing are just that: people who are not found. Many may not wish to be found, taking the storm as an opportunity to lose a spouse or a family they had long considered departing. Katrina for them was a fresh start, with a nice check from the government to help them on their way. But how many are they? What about the rest?

The levee breeches in St. Bernard and the Ninth Ward and the London Avenue and 17th Street Canal were huge, hundreds of feet long. Water began running back out of the Ninth Ward as early as Sept. 1. Hundreds or more of the dead could easily have been swept back out through the breaches, those of the flood and those the Corps of Engineers made to help drain the east.

Mississippi seems to be working to account for their missing. A Cox Newspaper story reports that of 1,185 originally reported missing, 968 have been "accounted for." It does not indicate how many of the missing turned up among Mississippi's 217 dead. Even applying that 82% resolution rate to the 7,000 or more missing over all, that would lead almost 1,300 unreported dead.

We many never know how many really died. It seems our government, which has built a wall of secrecy around the body recovery effort to rival that of the Manhattan Project, would appear not to want us to know.

I believe they don’t want us to know how badly they failed us in New Orleans, just as they failed us in New York. If the truth were known, that as many and possibly more died in Katrina as died on 9-11, who would they have to blame?

They would have no one to declare war on but themselves.

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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