Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Black Bodies Remain Still.....Part II

Imagine this...
You watch on TV the news that your mother's city has been destroyed by the latest disaster. For days you wait to hear from her. Days pass into weeks but still no word. Your hope of finding her alive fades. Frantically you call everyone in government but to no avail. You tell yourself to let the rescuers do their job. You await word from the morgue but it does not come. You hear they are backed up so you wait. Two months later you are allowed to go to her home. Hoping to retrieve what you can..... documents, the precious family photos, you enter her home only to find your mother's decomposing body in her living room. You stumble out and fall to your knees in anguish asking.... "Why, How could she have been left like this?"

This would never happen in America you say? It is.

On Oct 3 the search for bodies in NOLA was called off despite the knowledge that bodies remained in unsearched homes in NOLA's 9th Ward (see previous post) The plan was for people to call 911 if they found a body despite the fact that people were not even allowed into the 9th ward. On October 12th, parts of the 9th Ward were opened for a "look and leave." The death toll rose as bodies were found. And the lower 9th ward, perhaps the most devastated area of NOLA, will not open to residents until December.

Yesterday CNN reported this....
You know, it's hard to imagine anything worse than coming back to your home in New Orleans and finding it completely destroyed. But, tonight, as you're about to hear, there is something worse, much worse. Dozens of families have returned to what is left of their homes and found, lying amidst the mold and the wreckage, a body, forgotten, abandoned. Maybe it's their mother or their grandmother, sometimes even their missing child.

The state called off searching house to house in New Orleans well over a month ago. They said they completed the job.
There was no joy for Paul Murphy (ph) in this homecoming. When he walked into his house in New Orleans' Ninth Ward last month for the first time since Katrina, it was shock and anger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I'm thinking that, OK, I was going to come and salvage a few pictures or something. And I walk in here. I found my grandma on the floor dead.

DORNIN: 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. DORNIN (voice-over): They already have. And there are still many bodies left unidentified and unclaimed.
(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.

COOPER: Oh, my God.

STEPHENS: It was a horrible -- it was a gruesome sight. Very -- and again, people don't deserve any more grief and pain than they're going through right now. I mean, this whole process has been so excruciatingly screwed up and slow that, I mean, you're starting to feel a real sense of anger and hostility on the part of people locally and, my God, it's well-deserved.

It is a disgrace that this is happening in America. This is the country that took great pains to recover every little bit of human remains at Ground Zero after 9/11. Now we won't even bother to search homes in which we know bodies remain. This is not a matter of time or resources. The authorities simply chose not to take the time or allocate the resources to Do the Right Thing.
And more disgraceful is they are getting away with it. I have seen no reports of this other than 2 on CNN. Yet given the dozens of links and comments from my previous post I know people do care and were shocked to learn of this.
It is time to DEMAND of your representatives that the government fulfill the most basic of duties and search the lower 9th Ward before December. No more families should have to go through the horror of finding their loved ones abandoned and decomposing in their homes.
Call your representatives today.

(Enter your zip code and click through for your reps phone number)

Tell them in America you expect that No Body Will Be Left Behind.

Additionally demand that FEMA stop quibbling over who will pay for DNA testing and begin that testing now so the 636 321 bodies that remain in the morgue may be identified and returned to their families for burial.
Don't let them set this precedent. It could be your mother some day.

UPDATE: I have been calling Congressional reps including Senator Susan Collins who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee which has oversight of FEMA. Her staffers say they have been receiving calls on this issue.
Please Call Sen. Collins office: 202-224-2523
as well as your reps

Ask that the Lower 9th Ward be searched by Dec 1st.


The aptly named Hubris at INDC thinks calling your reps is a waste of time. Hubris googled a few sites and says this...
"Hey, I got lucky! I looked back at the news in October and it turns out my guess was right." His guess is that the state has a contract to pick up the bodies after FEMA pulled out saying it's done all it can.

Hubris should have done more research and he would have found out it wasn't as simple as he googled and guessed. Here's how it went according to WaPo regarding the contract for removing bodies....

When the storm swept through the Gulf of Mexico six weeks ago and left hundreds of bodies to decompose in homes and streets, Louisiana officials looked to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help removing them. But since cities and localities had historically recovered bodies from mass casualties, FEMA says, it had made no arrangements.

So a week after the monster storm struck, FEMA hired Kenyon International Emergency Services Inc., a Texas company that specializes in mobile morgues. Within a few days, however, Kenyon officials complained that the company still had no contract and that it was caught in a "bureaucratic quagmire," asked to do far more than was called for in the original agreement.

The company spurned FEMA and went to work for the state of Louisiana.

The lack of a contract to manage body collection, and the difficulties with Kenyon, fit a pattern of breakdowns in FEMA's relationship with the private sector, a relationship that has become crucial to the agency's workings but that contributed to its flawed response to Katrina. With relatively few resources of its own, FEMA relies on the private sector to provide the manpower and logistical help necessary to deal with a major emergency, but there were major gaps in the arrangements it had made. Many of the contracts it did have were poorly executed because of miscommunication and lack of planning.

So Hubris and others of this ilk may want to push this solely upon the state (read Dem Gov) but
it's quite a simplistic and disingenuous argument.
FEMA screwed up and it is entirely fair for anyone in America to call their rep and say so.
More important....tell them the job needs to be done.

UPDATE: Nov. 17--Some Progress on the DNA testing.
From CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.......
Rusty Dornin:Finally an agreement has been reached between the governor and FEMA. It looks like FEMA is going to pay 100 percent of the DNA testing at least until November 26th. Now what they're going to do is deposit $12 million or $13 million in an account. The state will begin processing the bodies in their lab and they will drawdown money.

But by November 26th, now remember, that's only next week, nine days from now, then they will have to pay 10 percent on the money that's left. Now Governor Blanco says the state will do that because it's their moral obligation to do so, however, even though their state covers are empty.
Perhaps your calls did some good. Now about searching the Lower 9th before Dec. 1st....keep calling.

UPDATE: December 6......More bodies found

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