Looks as if the Black Voice’s efforts were in vain. Mark House and his volunteers were prevented from assisting in the recovery of bodies in New Orleans:
Local community organizers raised funds to send Mark House, owner of Winthrop Industries and a team of experienced volunteers to help in the recovery of bodies. Those efforts have now been blocked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in favor of a Texas based firm being paid more than $118,000 a day to recover and process remains.
House said he responded initially to a request that went out from New Orleans for morticians and law enforcement officers and since, he and his team both felt they could help. After failed attempts to contact FEMA, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT), and Homeland Security, he was able to contact a source in the office of Dr. Louis Cataldie, the medical incident commander for the recovery of deceased victims of Katrina for the state, who said, “We no longer have a need for you.”
[T]he money initially raised will be returned and used for other victims of Katrina.
Last time, you Tribunes might recall, I wrote about this issue in this diary, “Black newspaper spearheads coalition to help bury Katrina blacks.” Unfortunately, no one is going to be allowed to cut into Kenyon’s profiteering.
The sadness and consternation resulting from this failed effort is palpable and may have ramifications elsewhere. Kenyon’s cushy no-bid contract has also guaranteed that local black morticians will be driven out of business.
This development is yet another blow to the black middle-class of New Orleans, a middle-class that may not be able to stand as a pillar from which the community can rebuild and grow. Many of the black middle-class made their livelihoods (and sometimes fortunes) from the funeral, insurance, personal grooming (barbering, hairdressing, cosmetics), haberdashery/tailoring and medical professions–that is, providing services to the black community that whites once refused to perform or to provide. While the country has become more integrated, however, the black funeral business continued more or less to flourish while other businesses (black resorts and vacation parks, for example) faded into memory.
The situation has Rev. Raymond Turner, President of the Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches IECAAC) and others in the local area very upset. […] He remembers when white mortuaries didn’t do black funerals.
“I am from the South,” said Rev. Turner, one of the co-sponsors of the candlelight service. “White mortuaries would not touch a black body. They do not understand our culture when it comes to death,” he continued.
FEMA has not only left heads shaking in the Inland Empire, but also has upset the Rhodes and the Crescent City Funeral Directors [as well as] the community. In addition, [it has] frustrated Coroner Frank Minyard, who complained Tuesday that Federal regulations had unnecessarily slowed the recovery and autopsy process. He said that FEMA, responsible for keeping the morgue operational, sometimes shut down early.
“We are often told to shut down at 11:30 AM despite a backlog of 300 bodies,” he said. Minyard said he needs more pathologist and volunteers to help with autopsies but FEMA would not allow its doctors or staff members to assist. He also said FEMA told him that their doctors could not help for fear of being tangled up in lawsuits. “Bureaucratic obstacles are a constant frustration.”
Only 73 bodies have been positively identified. The death count currently stands at 1078. Little by little, body by body, though, the count is rising as residents return from temporary shelters around the country. Eleven family members that past Sunday (October 9) had discovered three bodies of relatives in the wreckage and stench of their homes.