BATON ROUGE- When the bell at the Find Family National Call Center finished ringing at 1:24 p.m. yesterday afternoon, 10 more missing people had been found, and the total number of people missing because of Hurricane Katrina had fallen to below 2,000.
According to statistics generated by the Find Family Call Center, when Tuesday began, 2,007 people remained on the list of the ‘missing.’ This is down from 2,027 people on the list when staff reported to work Sunday to begin the new week, and it is almost half of the total number of missing people on the list when it was first issued at the beginning of the year.
According to Dr. Louis Cataldie, state medical examiner and incident commander for the Find Family Call Center, breaking the 2,000 missing barrier is the result of solid detective work on the part of the center’s staff.
“In the weeks immediately following the storm, we were receiving hundreds of calls a day from people reporting that a loved one was missing or was presumed to have died in the storm,” Cataldie said. “Ultimately, more than 11,000 people called our hotline to report a Louisiana citizen as missing.”
Cataldie said that as the incoming call volume decreased, staff began concentrating on making return calls to those who had called in earlier.
“These displaced people are very mobile, and by this time had moved several times, from a shelter to a hotel or from the home of a relative to the home of a friend,” he added. “It is very important that if you have located someone you once reported as missing, let us know. We need to focus our efforts on finding those who are truly missing, not on those who have already been found.”
In addition to taking calls and helping families fill out complex and detailed missing persons’ reports, or Victim Identification Packets, the staff also used national databases to search for those who had been reported as missing.
Henry Yennie, deputy director of the Find Family Center, said that in most cases, two out of every three missing people were found through the initial database searches.
“As of Jan. 1, 2006, this still left about 4,000 people who had not yet been found or who had not been identified as deceased. In less than two months, though, we’ve been able to cut this list in half,” he said.
He added that based on the successful efforts to track people down, and subsequently learning that someone is no longer missing, he is confident that the missing list will be further reduced during the next several months.
“There is also the reality that many of the people whom we are searching for today will never be found,” he said. “Some may have died and simply washed away with the flood waters, and their remains might never be discovered. But, as long as we continue to track people down, we will remain optimistic that most people will eventually be found.”
As of February 20, the Find Family Center was reporting that 910 bodies had been examined by the DMORT morgue, 824 of these bodies had been identified with only 86 unknowns remaining. There had been 11,537 calls to the center in which a missing persons’ report was prepared.