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Katrina Watch: Still Missing

Eleven months after the storm, hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Over and over again, we saw the image of a dead woman’s body slumped in a wheelchair and abandoned, her head covered with a blanket. She was 91-year-old Ethel Freeman, who had been waiting for 30 hours at the convention center with her son, Herbert Freeman, Jr. She died waiting. Herbert says he was ordered to get on a bus. Before he did, he left a scrap of paper with his cell phone number in his mother’s pocket. Weeks later he finally found her body at the coroner’s office in St. Gabriel.

Sadly, Herbert Freeman is one of the lucky few; so many others are still looking for their loved ones. In May, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals had 376 missing cases, down from 11,685 in the months after the storm. With many still unaccounted for, it seems unthinkable that the government ended the search a month after the tragedy, leaving survivors to look for loved ones themselves. By March, FEMA agreed to renew the search. The number of deaths has risen higher than 1,300.

“If a person is missing, it means somebody’s looking for them,” says John Paul Massicot, the attorney representing Freeman in a claim against the government. “But there were also people outside the system, like the homeless, who are never going to be counted. They just literally washed away.”