6,644 are still missing after Katrina; toll may rise


By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

The whereabouts of 6,644 people reported missing after Hurricane Katrina have not been determined, raising the prospect that the death toll could be higher than the 1,306 recorded so far in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to two groups working with the federal government to account for victims.

Most of those who remain listed as unaccounted-for 12 weeks after the storm probably are alive and well, says Kym Pasqualini, chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing Adults. She says they are listed as missing because government record-keeping efforts haven't caught up with them in their new locations.

However, Pasqualini says those counting the victims are particularly concerned about an estimated 1,300 unaccounted-for people who lived in areas that were heavily damaged by Katrina, or who were disabled at the time the storm hit. The fact that authorities haven't been able to determine what happened to them suggests that the death toll from Katrina could climb significantly. (Related story: Toll rises as returning find dead in homes)

Some of those on the list of people still missing are likely to be among the 301 unidentified victims whose bodies are at a Louisiana state morgue in St. Gabriel. Those victims already are included in the death total. (Related story: Morgues find identifying bodies difficult)

Pasqualini, whose group is working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to help the government count victims, says it will take months to get an account of what happened to victims during the chaos that followed Katrina.

Nearly 1,000 of the 6,644 unaccounted-for people are children. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, says volunteers continue to go door to door to try to close missing-person cases.

He believes that "a small number" of the missing children eventually will be listed as dead. Most of the unaccounted-for children, he says, probably were reunited with relatives after the children were reported missing during evacuations in New Orleans and Mississippi.