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Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals | Kathy Kliebert, Secretary

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Search for Missing Katrina/Rita Victims Transitions to Local Law Enforcement Agencies Beginning This Week

DHH, LSP-led effort successfully clears 99% of 13,400 missing cases

Wednesday, August 2, 2006  |  Contact: Media & Communications: Phone: 225.342.1532, E-mail: dhhinfo@la.gov

BATON ROUGE—Officials with the Department of Health and Hospitals and with the Louisiana State Police announced today that the effort to find the remaining 136 people on the official missing list from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will transition from the Louisiana Family Assistance Center to local law enforcement agencies.

Beginning later this week, callers to the missing hotline (1-866-326-9393) wishing to make new missing reports will be referred to the appropriate local law enforcement agency where the missing person lived prior to the storms.

The Louisiana Family Assistance Center opened last Sept. 7. It is slated to cease all operations on Aug. 14. The center is a joint effort between DHH, Louisiana State Police, the Federal Emergency Management Authority and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The center has been staffed by professionals experienced in forensic medicine, genetics, mental health, pathology and Internet technology. The center also has volunteer chaplains, mortuary specialists and call center operators. It has been the national collection point for information on separated family members or those who may have perished in Louisiana during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The number of names remaining on the official missing list has stayed virtually the same in the last month. With all leads exhausted on the remaining 136 names, it appears these are the people most likely never to be found. From a total of 13,400 missing reports, 13,260 have been resolved with 10,985 found alive, 859 confirmed as victims of the storms and 1,416 cases referred to other jurisdictions after being determined to not be from Louisiana. This amounts to a rate of 99 percent of the missing cases resolved.

According to Louis Cataldie, M.D., acting State Medical Examiner, who oversaw and directed the operations, the results accomplished by the Family Assistance Center have outpaced any forecasts by national emergency response experts. Cataldie termed this effort one of the most comprehensive and successful searches for missing persons in the nation’s law enforcement history.

“When we first began, the most realistic estimates based on past disasters such as 9/11 in New York were that there would be as many as 500 individuals who would never be found, and that up to 200 of the remains would never be positively identified. The work done here in Louisiana essentially sets a new and significant benchmark in such emergency operations,” Cataldie said.

In addition to having resolved 99 percent of the missing persons cases, similar achievements were reached in the identification of remains. Of the 910 storm victims received at the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) morgues at Carville and St. Gabriel, nearly 98 percent (887) have been identified. As of July 18, DNA identification efforts have continued with responsibility for any new cases shifting to local coroners’ offices.

“For these missing persons cases, we have combed through multiple databases, sent local and state level search teams to their last known addresses, conducted several searches through State Police and have arranged for cadaver dogs to search homes,” said Cataldie. “Unfortunately, these people have not been found. We are handing these cases over to local law enforcement to remain active as missing persons cases. We know it is possible that some of them may never be found, but if leads turn up, we want to make sure they will be followed.”

Cataldie added that the New Orleans Fire Department and the Police Department have worked extremely hard to assist the Family Assistance Center in its mission.

During the remaining operation of the Family Assistance Center, workers will finalize the exhaustive case files of the remaining names on the official missing list and then transfer those over to the appropriate local law enforcement agencies. In addition, workers will notify the contact person in each missing person case to let them know where the case is being transferred and whom to contact for future assistance.

Also, volunteer chaplains with the Victims Relief Ministry are calling family members of each deceased victim to give them local and state resources to assist them with future needs. Families who have had kinship DNA testing but whose relatives have not yet been identified as among the recovered remains have also received phone calls to let them know their DNA cases have been transferred to the appropriate parish coroners.

The Department of Health and Hospitals will continue to maintain the missing hotline as a service to those who may find the need to report a possible missing person from the storm. After the Family Assistance Center’s closure, the hotline will have pre-recorded information referring callers to local law enforcement.

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NOTE TO MEDIA:

To arrange interviews with staff at the Family Assistance Center,

please contact LFAC PIOs:

Ann Barks, 985-290-8304

Ann Christian, 504-232-6361