Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blanco Interview on NOLA Body Searches

Anderson Cooper of CNN interviewed LA Gov. Blanco tonight. She discussed conducting DNA tests on victim's remains and searching for bodies that still remain. Here are the remarks regarding ending the search for bodies in NOLA.....

COOPER: October 3, the state called off house-to-house searching for the dead. Since then, 104 bodies have been found. Do you think it was a mistake now to call off the -- the searches so early?

BLANCO: Anderson, you know, we have suffered great tragedies here in Louisiana. And an extensive effort was made to recover all the bodies. The great tragedy is that the nation still doesn't understand the dimensions of our tragedy and how difficult all of this has been on us. We are still asking for help, you know. We have not dismissed the cries for assistance but sometimes we think they're falling on deaf ears.

COOPER: That's a good point, and I want to get to it. But, I mean, the formal searches, massive searches, house-to-house did stop October 3rd. I know they have resumed in some areas because they keep finding these bodies in the homes. Do you know what the thought process was or who made the decision to stop those searches on October 3rd?

BLANCO: Well, I'm not sure who made the decisions or how the decisions were made specifically about that date, Anderson.

COOPER: But you yourself had said that it's important to look back and that mistakes were made at all levels. And, frankly, so far you're the only government official who has had the courtesy to actually step forward on this program and talk to me, because the mayor won't even talk to me anymore. I can't get an interview with him. I'm not trying to be critical or mean or anything but I mean I do think -- and I think everyone agrees that, you know, no one wants this to happen again. Democrats are calling for an independent review of what happened. No one in Washington seems to be talking about that.

BLANCO: I would love an independent review. I think that it's important. I am going to Congress, you know, at the behest of the Senate and the House, not a bipartisan effort whatsoever, but partisan committees. And I expect to be answering the specifics, whatever questions they ask me. I'll be happy to tell them what happened and what we did and what our expectations were. And...

COOPER: When you go to Washington, do...

BLANCO: ... what expectations failed us.

COOPER: Do you feel like there's Katrina fatigue?

BLANCO: You know, here in Louisiana, we feel like we are citizens of the United States who are nearly forgotten. It is a very frustrating thing. People are weary. They want to move on. They want us to move on. It's going to take us a while. And we still need help from Washington. COOPER: Well, when I hear other people talking...

BLANCO: And I'm worried that we're not going to get it.

COOPER: When I hear people talk about Katrina fatigue, I just want to kind of shake them and say, you know, you want to know who has Katrina fatigue, you talk to the people in Louisiana, you talk to people in the Gulf Coast. People in Washington shouldn't be talking about Katrina fatigue.

BLANCO: You are so right. The only people who are deserving of Katrina fatigue are the Louisiana folks who have been in the trenches now for over two months. We are fatigued. And but it's so disheartening not to have enough sympathy.

COOPER: I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, Governor Blanco. Thank you.

BLANCO: Thank you, Anderson.

It is certainly difficult to determine responsibility for searches and body collection. It appears flawed planning and a convoluted process involving state gov't, federal gov't and a private contractor prevailed throughout.
FEMA said body collection was not their responsibility as they had never done it before. The state said they didn't have the resources to collect bodies.
The state does not have the resources to search for and recover the bodies, said Robert Johannessen, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. "I am not aware of any document out there that says whose responsibility it is."
One week after Katrina hit FEMA hired private contractor Kenyon International Emergency Services Inc. to collect bodies. (A contractor with a sordid past by the way) In short time Kenyon complained it didn't have a contract and it too didn't have the resources to do all that was being asked of them. According to WaPo "the company spurned FEMA and went to work for the state of Louisiana." WaPo cited numerous other problems with FEMA and contractors.....well worth reading. If FEMA initiated a contract to collect bodies obviously at that point in time they felt responsible for the task. It appears it eventually fell upon the state through the ineptitude of FEMA though.

As far as the ending of searches it appears FEMA pulled out first leaving the task for the state and Kenyon. The Times Picayune reported on Saturday October 1st that "The Federal Emergency Management Agency completed its role in Joint Task Force Katrina's search for survivors and bodies in the New Orleans area on Wednesday" which was Sept 28.

On October 3rd the state ended searches for bodies as reported by the AP....... "The search for bodies of people killed by Hurricane Katrina has ended in Louisiana, and more searches will be conducted only if someone reports seeing a body, a state official said Monday." This official is not named.

It appears FEMA pulled stakes and left an already overburdened state and private contractor to hold the bag. The state should have protested this or perhaps they did to no avail. I'm sure there is more to this than is known now. I doubt anyone is clear of blame regarding the ending of the searches. An independent commission is certainly needed to look into a myriad of concerns regarding Katrina including this.

What is clear is that bodies remain in unsearched homes in NOLA.

What is also clear is that Lousiana is stretched to the breaking point. The state has a $959 million deficit. The LA House just approved $606 million in painful budget cuts to offset the massive deficit. 842 vacant positions cut. 65 filled jobs cut. Medicaid cut by 1/3. Universities cut by $70 name a few.
NOLA is facing unbelievable problems which can be seen from just a cursory look at The Times Picayune headlines....


Parish fears flooding by clogged waterways

Orleans yet to open doors to any school


Legislature OKs school takeover

National Guard soldiers arrested in looting

Officials move teachers to where kids are

Katrina to redraw region's political picture

Lawmakers urge citizens to push for protection

Housing, levees, loans urged

Health risks in wake of storm hard to gauge

Kenner heavy on no-bid storm jobs

Locked out of the Lower 9th Ward

Storm tips homes' residents over edge

Jeff hiring help to speed up permits

There's more but hopefully you get the picture of what NOLA and other cities of the Gulf are facing. Imagine your city starting over completely with infrastucure, schools, housing, jobs, health care, on and on. Do you think it could be accomplished without the ongoing moral support and financial resources of your nation's government?

I think Blanco's call for more attention and assistance from the federal government is valid. Which leads back to my call yesterday for readers to contact their representatives to ask that the Lower 9th ward be searched for the remaining bodies. This is America and we are a nation that ought to come to the aid of its citizens in a time of great need. We should not leave the corpse of any American to rot and decay in their home for any reason. We are better than that or at least we were.

If you haven't called your representative yet please do so. Ask that the Lower 9th ward be searched by December 1st prior to the residents return. This simple act of caring for our dead with respect and dignity should not and need not be a partisan battle. Rather it is the responsibility shared by all of us. Let some healing begin now, for NOLA and for all of us.

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