Eight weeks after Hurricane Katrina separated mothers from children and brothers from sisters, there are still more than 1,500 cases of "fractured families" that have not been reunited, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Although every child found alone in a shelter has been reunited with family members, 1,549 children, out of the 4,775 hurricane-related child separations reported to the center, are still being sought by one or both parents or other relatives, center officials said.
And the painstaking work of tracing families spread across 48 states is not getting any easier.
"We've resolved almost 66 percent of those cases," said Ben Ermine, executive director for case management operations at the center. He said that number includes 100 Hurricane Rita-related cases, 73 of which have been resolved. "But the reason for all these remaining cases," he added, "is that children have been scattered all over the country, and to track them down is a very difficult process."
Ermine said teams of retired law enforcement officials working as volunteers have been using a number of databases to track missing children and adults, working with the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cross-check their lists of people in shelters and temporary housing with the list of the missing. The center has also partnered with CNN, which has regularly shown photos of mission children.
"I think that the majority of the cases that we have are cases that the children are okay," Ermine said. "They're maybe with their grandmothers. We have a number of cases where the parents are separated. We just have to get those cases together. A large percentage we're dealing with are fractured families, families that have been displaced. We just have to make sure that we connect them."
One problem for family members trying to reconnect with each other is that many have no idea where their loved ones were driven or flown to, Ermine said. The center said that its Web site, www.missingkids.com, is receiving 10 million to 20 million hits per day from 220 countries.
The Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which focuses on helping law enforcement authorities track down abducted children, was asked by the Justice Department to set up a Hurricane-related missing persons hotline and to help track down the missing after Katrina. As publicity about the hotline spread, the number of reported cases mushroomed, including calls inquiring about missing adults. The hotline and the center's general inquiry number have received 31,497 calls. Calls continue to be received at 800-843-5678 or 800-THE-LOST.
A great number of the calls received -- 12,514 -- reported missing adults. They were referred to the National Center for Missing Adults, which has resolved 49 percent of those cases. In the case of adults, center officials have said that many hurricane evacuees may have no idea that family members or friends have been looking for them.