Five years after Hurricane Katrina, a fundamental question remains unanswered: How many died? Of an estimated 1,464 victims officially recognized by the state of Louisiana, more than 500 names have not been publicly released, reports the Houston Chronicle. And Louisiana’s once-ambitious efforts to tackle dozens of related cases of missing persons and unidentified bodies ran out of money in 2006 and has never been revived. “We didn’t complete the mission,” said Dr. Lewis Cataldie, a Baton Rouge physician who once ran the state’s efforts. “I’m very angry about it.”
DNA, X-rays and other technology mean that identification remains possible years from now if additional remains get found or family members of the missing submit evidence that gets linked to the nameless. Yet no state or federal agency today keeps track of those who remain missing from Katrina – or have since been confirmed dead. There is no central place for scattered surviving families to call. In New Orleans, 31 unidentified victims’ bodies were buried in a $1.5 million monument in 2008. None has been identified since then. John Mutter, a Columbia University professor, has been gathering personal testimonials and public records of those killed in Katrina for an effort he calls Katrinalist. Mutter estimates the true death toll will top 3,500 if those killed by the storm and by its many after-effects are accurately tallied. And yet other counts put the toll at an estimated 1,800.