07 December 2005

Katrina Death Toll - The Unfound Bodies

Aerial Photo of Gulfport Destruction only a few days after Katrina

After personally seeing the destruction of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and speaking to a Gulfport woman who lives in the flood surge zone, I firmly believe that many people on the coast were swept out to sea during the storm surge.

My company does work for the City of Gulfport and I was asked by the Department of Public Works to GPS broken water meters down near the beach on the western side of the city. After getting security clearance, I rode down the beach, almost the full length of the city of Gulfport. Besides being floored by the total devastation, I was shocked to see vehicles in Mississipi Sound. The water off of the beach does not get deep fast. Truck or car wheels were sticking up out of the water about 100-200 yards offshore.

This is when I met a local woman. I forget her name, but she lives near the border of Long Beach about 300-400 yards from the beach. All houses between her house and the beach were either completely destroyed from the storm surge or massively damaged. Her house was spared because it was on ground a little higher and raised on pillars about 2 or 3 feet. It only got 6 inches of water in it. She told me that the ground outside her house is 27 feet above sea level. This means that the storm surge was at least 30 feet high.

She told me that she did not stay in her house during the storm but knew a few people on her block that did. One couple climbed up a tree during the storm surge and then dropped on their car as it floated by. They rode atop the car until they were able to get off of it to safety.

The lady then told me "I can't tell you how many friends have personally told me that they had to climb a tree." This got me wondering: how many people that lived within 500 yards of the beach actually rode out the storm in their home? How many of those were swept out to sea? Over 40 miles of coast had thousands of homes completely destroyed. How many of those people tried to ride the storm out in their homes? Supposedly, in Harrison County alone there are still thousands of people missing. I have yet to see an official count of missing people. I heard from her and others that FEMA hired shrimp boats to dredge a debris line after the storm. Some bodies were found but to date I think the official death toll in Mississippi is still under 200 people.

The lady then told me "two bodies were found just the other day in the rubble of a house around the corner." FYI, this is two months after the storm. She went on to say that the two bodies were not the people that lived there, they were unidentified.

Judging from the amount of rubble that still remains I can guess that there have been and will be many more bodies found. Many many piles of rubble have only been moderately searched because it is too dangerous to go into collapsing houses or the rubble needs to be lifted by heavy equipment. Sniff dogs don't always find bodies, especially since thousands of once frozen chickens and pork bellies wound up on the coast from the nearby port. The place stank to high hell even although most of the chickens were removed. I have never seen so many flies in my life. And they were HUGE from feasting on 2 month old unidenifiable biolgical carcasses that I can only assume used to be chickens. The smell was unbearable. I wanted to puke even though I have a strong stomach. Cars were upside down in huge piles of what once used to be houses and condominiums. Water spouts rose 3 -5 feet in the air from plumbing sticking up from building foundations. The buildings themselves were nowhere to be seen unless you look 100 yards away further inland. It was A total mess.


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