Monday, October 13, 2008

If the Tempest is Forgotten, is it Past?

I have a deep level of frustration at what I perceive as, not so much a cover-up, but as a "hushing up" of the tragedy on the Bolivar Peninsula and in Galveston and environs.

There are articles out there on the missing and the death toll, if not a list of their names. You will find the same problem with Katrina. That list of dead is only online in one spot and is only for New Orleans. It took some searching to find it and it is far from complete.

The list is of 910 names, of which 824 were identified. Here is an article that would indicate the total for New Orleans should be higher.

Almost forty per cent of the identified victims were seventy-five or older. Storms often take those too old, too stubborn, too alone or too unaware to leave.

They never dredged the canals in New Orleans. You would think that would have been a place to look for the missing, especially with the anecdotal accounts of bodies being put into the canals from rooftops like bodies slipped from ships at sea.

The death toll from the 1900 Galveston hurricane was corrected well over 50 years later. The same thing happened with the San Francisco earthquake and fire. In both cases the undercounting was deliberate. Civic leaders were downplaying the tragedy even as they were dealing with the cleanup.

One news story says "Hundreds of people remain missing three weeks after Ike's assault on Texas. Local and city officials are no longer keeping their own count of missing residents, and the estimate varies wildly from one agency to another."

That is certainly what I have found with my online research. Part of the problem is there is (apparently) no federal effort to locate the missing and catalog the dead.

I will try and construct a list of those who died in Texas by using news reports and obituaries. If anyone would care to leave me links, please do so.

I worked with evacuees during Katrina and in some cases was the contact for people who did not want their phone numbers disclosed online. One day I got a call from someone in the forensic unit working on the Katrina missing list. (I wonder if they have a unit set up for Ike?) I was able tell the person that the woman was alive and put them in touch with the family for verification. The FEMA contractor was pleased because she said they rang a bell whenever they verified that someone on the missing list had survived and she would get to ring the bell.

I then asked her about a couple of names I had. She was shocked they were on her list and I had to tell her she would not get to ring a bell for them. One was a woman who evacuated from a hospital in New Orleans after the storm and who then disappeared. Her family and friends, and myself and some friends, looked for this woman for a month. We tracked her from the hospital, to a prison (staging area), to a helipad and no further. I knew someone calling every hospital in Louisiana, starting with the letter "A" asking for this eighty year old woman.

Finally the family was notified.

She had died almost immediately and was in a morgue with ID in her pocket. All the time the state of Louisiana was looking for her, they had her. Why was no one notified? Louisiana has no law requiring they notify next of kin when they are holding a body. Apparently most states do not have a law requiring this. I wonder about Texas. Could there be recovered bodies with ID that are not being processed?

At one point federal legislation was introduced requiring that "hospitals make reasonable efforts to contact a family member, specified healthcare agent, or surrogate decisionmaker of a patient who arrives at a hospital emergency department unconscious or otherwise physically incapable of communicating."

It didn't pass. But wouldn't you have thought you didn't have to legislate this? You would have thought wrong. A hospital probably had this patient and her ID before the morgue did.

Next up. blogging on how the Houston SPCA is reluctant to reunite families and pets. (I don't get that either.)

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