As Katrina fades from public attention, the pain of separation continues for families wrenched apart during the upheaval of the evacuation.
There are some happy outcomes for sure. Twelve-year-old Emil, 8-year-old Ronell, 8-year-old Ronald and 3-year-old Treneka were separated from their parents when the family left the New Orleans Superdome in September. The parents hoped the children were with friends but could not find them for two weeks. Finally a social worker and staff of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) located the children, who were staying with family friends in Dallas. Those children were reunited with their parents in a relatively short period, but now two and a half months after Hurricane Katrina, there are still nearly 1,300 missing children registered with the NCMEC.
Because, like with those women who suffered rapes and sexual abuse, there has been no uniform accounting of evacuees who have been moved to other locations. It is almost as if these children, like their parents, were deemed unimportant.
Bob O’Brien, director of NCMEC Missing Children’s Division, said the number of missing children is so high partly because of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding Katrina. The NCMEC usually allows only parents and legal guardians to register children. But given the chaos of the relief effort, the organization opened up the registry to other relatives such as aunts, uncles and grandmothers.
The NCMEC registered 4,828 Katrina children in the weeks following the hurricane, and has resolved 73 percent of those cases. As of Nov. 8, however, 1,286 children had yet to be united with loved ones. Sixty-three and a half percent were listed as black in the registry. That is consistent with the 2000 New Orleans census figures of 67 percent black.
Some of the 1,286 children were listed as lost not by parents and guardians, but by relatives such as grandmothers. It is possible that some children may be with parents or other family. Still, the numbers of children missing are high by any measure and can be attributed in part to the chaos of the evacuation and the lack of records.
Over 411,000 people were dispersed by the hurricane and subsequent flooding. They have, in turn, were brought (or dumped) at other temporary locations at least 2 or 3 times.
Some of the missing children may be among the dead and yet to be identified because of the decomposition of water-logged bodies. The NCMEC is taking DNA samples from parents to aid in the identification. As of Nov. 1, there were still 140 bodies unidentified in the New Orleans morgue. Most of these bodies, however, are likely to be adults.
The 140 bodies, however, are not to be confused with the hundreds of unclaimed bodies at St. Gabriel, near Baton Rouge.
Unfortunately, there is also a possibility that some of those missing children may have been kidnapped. Four thousand registered sex offenders were also evacuated with the children. These sex offenders have not yet re-registered in the states to which they were assigned. No offender, however, has been caught with a child in their keeping. Not yet.
Contact the following regarding reuniting children with parents:
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), http://www.missingkids.com
Red Cross, http://www.katrinasafe.org
Craig’s List, http://www.craigslist.org
There are also 28 other organizations with webpages listing missing children.