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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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And then there were 20. That's the official number of missing persons whose whereabouts are still unknown in this region of the Gulf Coast, according to Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove.

That number is a tiny portion of the more than 6,600 people still reported missing as a result of Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Center for Missing Adults, which is working with federal government to help account for the victims.

Hargrove's office is part of an ad hoc group put together shortly after Katrina hit with the goal of locating the missing in this southern Mississippi area. The group includes the Bureaus of Investigation from Mississippi, Kansas and Georgia; the U.S. Marshals, the Mississippi Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the FBI, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Salvation Army.

"This kind of effort has never been done before," Hargrove said. "We've bonded together; everyone left their egos at the door," he said. 

It's been a Herculean task; Hargrove started with a list "in the 1,300s" he said.  But he ran into an early misstep.  "Someone working for the task force posted a big list of missing to the Internet that I knew was incorrect," Hargrove said, but the listed hadn't yet been checked against other agencies.  One immediate tip-off: "My daughter was on that list," he said, and he knew her whereabouts.  That list was promptly removed until the task force had more reliable information.

Another early stumbling block came from an unlikely source:  the Red Cross.  "The Red Cross won't cooperate with anybody," Hargrove said.  "Their help has been non-existent," he said. "But what goes around, comes around."

The Red Cross acknowledged it received a request from Hargrove's office to help narrow the missing list by checking names against those that might in a Red Cross shelter.  Although the organization jealously guards the privacy of those in its shelters, Red Cross spokesman Mary Lee Conwell said the organization had been in the process of helping Hargrove.

"The list was being processed and we started to gather names but the effort fell through the cracks," Conwell said.  "It was wickedly wild down here and it’s still a bit crazy down here," Conwell said.  "Our first priority was to take care of the needs of the people at hand." 

In times of "gigantic disasters" the Red Cross makes exceptions about access to those living in their shelters.  "We will provide government officials with the names for purposes like the coroner's request," Conwell said.  "We'll have to get back to the [Harrison County] coroner and see if we can patch this up," she said.

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36 COMMENTS

The Red Cross is so overrated. I wish someone would do an expose' of their efforts or lack thereof during this hurricane season. I tried to volunteer as hundreds of evacuees were pouring into my hometown. I was told no help was needed and then just hours later saw the Red Cross on TV begging for volunteers and, of course, money. Then I saw them throwing away food because they couldn't get it distributed. As far as I'm concerned the Red Cross is just another bureaucratic mess. FEMA and the Red Cross are identical twins.

This is understandable as so many agencies worked and work on this without always cooperating with one another. I hope as they cooperate the list of missing will grow shorter. I am afraid that many of those folk on the list are dead. But, I suppose, we are fortunate not to have lost many more due to our poor preparation for Katrina.

What is the website that has the list of the missing?

My, My, surprise, surprise! The Red Cross won't help! Well here in East Texas, it comes as NO surprise to us! Red Cross has been the most UNhelpful folks around. Oh they were here giving out hot meals that looked like someone threw up in a plate (honestly, it was disgusting looking, most people couldn't even bring themselves to eat it) but when it came to actually helping people that needed food and shelter, it was hard to find Red Cross helping. Here in our town people waited over 4 hours in the VERY hot sun for help, then a Red Cross worker came out of their "meeting" and told us all to go home and to come back the next day and they would be able to process us quicker and get us some help. We were told to be there at 8 A.M. Some arrived at 6 and waited until 10 and Red Cross NEVER showed up!!! They shut completely down!!! Now THAT is dirty! When it comes time to give when the NEXT disaster happens, I WON'T be giving to the Red Cross, I will give to the ones I KNOW helped people here!

Seems like we keep hearing over and over again that the Red Cross is part of the disaster problem and not a big part of the solution. This has been going on for years but no one wants to point out that it has become the norm for them because we've looked up to the organization for so long. I don't mean to say they don't do a lot of good but they seem to have gotten just as beauracratic and full of themselves as government groups. I started donating to other similar organizations 4 or 5 years ago. I think it is time one of the major news organizations does a program or article with some in depth coverage on this problem.

I tell you what. I'll never donate the the American Red Cross again. This is just another indication of their arrogance, and I wouldn't be surprised if we hear later about the staff using donated money for their own personal use.

i hope the 20 are found hopefully well if not to give closeure to famlay the red cross is doing every thing it can ...as always ...bless the red cross and all you folks on the coast

MY NAME IS ROXANE DAVIS AND WE LIVE IN MEXICO. IF THERE IS ANY WORK THAT I CAN HELP YOU WITH AS FAR AS DOING THINGS OVER THE COMPUTER; CHECKING LISTINGS OF PEOPLE; COMPARING NAMES; CONTACTING PEOPLE I WOULD BE MORE THEN HAPPY TO HELP OUT. WE HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THE KATRINA FOR A LONG TIME BUT SINCE WE LIVE 10 HOURS SOUTH OF THE BOARDER THERE REALLY WASN'T MUCH WE CAN DO. SO PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF I CAN BE OF ANY ASSISTANCE.

I think the Red Cross should put their differences aside and work together as a team with other agencies to assist families in finding their loved ones. Quick bickering about what "regulations" are, etc., and try to locate the missing. This disaster, which encompassed, most of the south, and individuals from this disaster are spread througout the United States. It is bad enough FEMA is underfire, let us hope we don't have a breakdown with the other agencies...and the families can move on and rebuild their lives.

I find this article fascinating. I was planning to re-locate to the Gulfport / Bay St. Louis / Waveland, MS area until my efforts were shot-down by a small percentage of family, friends, and most notably, the founder of the relief agency in MS that was to be -- and in fact IS to be -- the primary benefactor of my efforts.

The vast majority of all the people I interacted with supported my efforts, however...

I worked the phones, email, and the Internet (you have to just LOVE Google) for 3 solid months, doing so after having had a combination pacemaker / defibrillator implanted in August, just before Katrina hit. I surrendered my entire life to the effort. I found blood-family (i.e. first bousins) I never knew I had, and they were perched atop the very pinnacle of instituions that are the bedrock fo the global economy. The entire experience was truly amazing, and when it was over I found that my life had, without question and in glorious technocolor, come full-circle. I have finally found the genuine peace one is blessed with when acknowledging one's own exisitence and purpose. The ease of accepting this knowledge...the ease of allowing assimilation of my soul withing the vast, collective spirituality that is our eternal destiny....this was plain-old miraculous. I have truly been blessed.

I have no further use for the politics of life. Nor do I need to continue to carry the painful realization that my own existence is in fact a burden or obstacle to overcome for others in my life. I have no further need for the politcis found in the workplace, within relations with family, friends, and loved ones.

And I also hold no grudges. I harbor no ill will towards anyone.

As for the founder of the relief agency in MS who shot-down my efforts? I understand her position completely now. She and the other fine folks whe is working with have every right to build a propserous future for themselves. And though I am NOT suggesting that their efforts are motivated by their own needs to acquire "power and money", I would moste certainly be accepting of them if in fact this wast to be true. We all need to be able to support ourselves and our families, whether those families be blood relatives or simply fellow members of the family of God. I'd parphrase one of my spiritual advisors here: "Jesus needs us to take care of ourselves first, so that we are then best prepared to care for others."

As my initial efforts was to include my volunteering with the Red Cross' technology team, I did so find it interesting (and amusing, too) to read about the "politics of relief". While I simply can not nor will not accept the effort-wasting, soul-squandering nonsense that is "the politics or relief", I recognize it's right to exist, and that it will continue to, just like the storm surger, rise and fall over all times.

I am weary of seeing Red Cross so easily criticized by the common person. The Red Cross is a volunteer non-profit organization that requires charitable contributions to function. It has become the world's de facto disaster response organization. Their managment and volunteers and contributors are to be applauded for delivering so many services to so many people. There is a saying that "gratitude is the most fleeting of emotions". The Red Cross must know this and has over the years developed guidelines that serve the most needs. Privacy is an issue. What if a murderous ex-spouse saw where their targeted spouse was located? Katrina presented this nation with untold challenges, and as far as I can tell, three larger organizations performed superbly. These were the Coast Guard, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and I thank them for being there, getting there, and working so hard. Add to that list the grass roots activities of many many church groups, smaller charitable groups, and individual efforts. I suppose that it is human nature to try to "blame" whoever is helping for their woes, but you won't get that from me. Life is tough and all of the charitable organizations make it a little easier.

I live in southern MS, and find that this is the most friendly, loving place that I have ever lived (coast to coast). People here, who are natives, are gracious and giving in this time of need. And the needs are very great for some of us, and will be for a very, very long time.

My father, who lives out west, asks every week if "things are back to normal." Things will never be normal again. Many of these areas here are still unaccessible. People are still standing in line for TENTS! The weather is turning cold (we have two climates here--hot and humid and cold and humid, with only a few days of fall and spring), and people are still in tents.

It is sad to say, but I wish the national media would turn their heads AWAY from New Orleans and east toward the areas that were hit HARDEST. New Orleans gets the attention because the people there are spending more time complaining than improving their lives, whereas in MS, folks are quietly going about their business and daily trying to find solutions to their overwhelming problems. Encourage your local news carriers to look towards Bay St. Louis and Waveland. It is shocking and increasingly sad to see what people deal with in those areas.

Thanks to the thousands of volunteers who helped us clean up and buck up. Most are gone now, but there are still some very hardy souls lending a hammer as well as a hand (up, not out). God will bless you!!!

If you need a place to spend your vacation, come here and meet and greet the great locals who remain charming and steadfast in the midst of this holocaust (yes, when I see the arials, it looks a great deal like Hiroshima). From Pascagoula to Ocean Springs, through Biloxi and Gulfport and all the way to Waveland, people are piecing (not an overstatement) their lives back together. Would you like to spend a week assisting them? You will find that you've never spent better time!

It so sad that many are anti Red Cross. My next door neighbor has a huge heart and spent three weeks as a Red Cross volunteer rescuing people in Mississippi. We must realize this catastrophic event caught the nation flat footed. We have much to learn. We can sit and complain or do what my neighbor did and roll up your sleeves to help the country. We should remember President Kennedy said and follow his advice: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Because of medical condition the only thing I could do was pray and I continue to do so.

I was one of the many evacuees fleeing New Orleans as Katrina was headed for us. I went to Baton Rouge for the first week and tried to get assistance from the Red Cross...what I got was a PHONE LIST. No food, no clothing, no money or assistance was being offered whatsoever. Meanwhile people from all over the world are sending millions of dollars...so where was this money going? As people watched in horror at the devestation in my home town and wanted to help - they donated money to the Red Cross - but did it all come to us? Not a chance. There was a lady on tv who was the head of Red Cross and when they asked her how people know that the money they donate is going to the cause/location they intented? Her reply? She talked about how she understands how difficult it is to be a small business owner...huh? I have no idea how the interviewer didn't catch that. After leaving Baton Rouge, we went to Houston, and still the same thing...a phone list and instructions to call their toll free number. Well, this humber was busy 24 hrs a day for the first six weeks after the storm. I will NEVER donate again to the Red Cross!

The Red Cross is a joke and I won't ever send them money. I called them last year after Hurricane Charley hit South Florida looking a good friend...have I ever heard from them? NO!!
And don't forget the scandle after 9-11 when all those millions that people sent in were spent on new computers for the organization.
I think if we do some investigating we might find that the Red Cross is run by Michael "Brownie" Brown, I mean look what he did for FEMA.

People (and the press at times) seem to miss one key point. Katrina was a disaster so large that it overwhelmed all of our resources. The Katrina disaster area equals the size of England-- an entire country! When are we going to outgrow this childish negative media culture where we always focus on the worst possible interperetation of people and events?
Phil Murray, Red Cross Volunteer

Three months after the storm we still wonder what happened to people that we knew but not well enough to have a way to easily get in touch with them. So now we wonder if they made it through the storm. On Saturday we went to the Bay because I knew in my heart that it most likely would never be there again the way we knew it. We talked to two ladies that always took care of us when we were at the Good Life and the Fire Dog, both said they were staying because they were in houses that were strong and not in flood zone. There is a section in the Sun Herald called "we remember" and that is how I found out about one man that I had met several times (they owned a bed and breakfast house in the Pass) and he and his best buddy, one of the family dogs, did not make it out as the house fell apart around them. It just made me so sad because I wondered how many others I will never know about. If you want more info check out sunherald.com, wlox.com, femaforgotwaveland.com, priceferrell.com, katrina.passchristian.net, arloandjanis.com, hssm.org, sylentwitness.com and for some interesting photography operationeden.com.

I'd be interested to hear from the Katrin victims as to which charitable organizations WERE effective in the days after the hurricane. I'd like to add them to my list for donations.

THE BUCK STOPS HERE! Have we devolved into what our enemies hope and pray for? Lead follow or get out of the way! No one is sigularly responsible for these failures and yet these oportunities for improvement are going to be critical if we are going to survive the next big disater. Each of us in our own way must pray for those who are still lost and those who are still suffering...

Some may feel the Red Cross failed them. But I find it extremely pathetic that a volunteer organization, although in disarray & immense pressure, provided more stability, structure & assistance than OUR OWN GOVERNMENT. I am deeply saddened that so many people had to feel abandoned. The Red Cross, at least made an effort, & if they currently are carring more about the people in front of them before they attempt to spend valuable time compiling lists just to clarify a number then they are doing a great service. I personally would have been able to drive from Las Vegas to New Orleans faster than the government assistance. Four days? five days? Mr. Bush must have thought New Orleans was part of Cuba..

I'm in the Northeast; the Red Cross begged nationally for volunteers but when I and friends offered our assistance we were told we weren't needed. The reason? We hadn't been trained. And so on. A family member of mine teaches many classes a year for the RC. He is not paid, although the students attending the classes pay. Our own family is told they have to pay to take his class; no perks or freebies. They (the RC) always have their hands out to get, but if you want to receive it's a paperwork mess. A local family was flooded out of their home here recently; the RC gave them 5 days in a hotel. 5 days? Wow. I'm sure our community has given hundreds of thousands of dollars recently, yet very little of that stays in our local area. I understand Katrina and friends was a disaster of epic proportions, and the people there need all the help they can get, but around here we're tired of always giving and giving and then watching our neighbors do without because there are no resources left for home. And to hear that the RC won't cooperate with other agencies? Who appointed them in charge of everything anyway? They are so concerned with their paperwork that they forget that there are people involved, not just names and forms. Those debit cards they gave out. What a joke! Some used them for legit purposes, others to visit bars, buy things they could never have afforded before, and so on. Where were the good meals, the housing? The Red Cross has turned into a joke. Will I ever give again? Not even a pint of blood...

Red cross is misleading.There as bad as the school systems these days.Why do we have to send in clorox wipes to wash the desks.Tissues to blow there noses.Because if they instead kept there old refridgerator,durring a fundraiser ran to raise money. They could of bought the tissues ,wipes,projector sleeves ...sent in by kids for teachers to use,cause they don't wanna dip into there pockets for the cash.Lets face the fact here no one wants to work .They want the job ,the job thats doing nothing. Old george bush said no child left behind right. Well my daughter has all f's and is getting no help.She can't keep up with the class. And on top of things if any child is out of school for 4 days in a quarter they get all f's (even if they had 100's).There is no resource room to help her.Children are correting ,childrens papers.The world is becomming a mess.Everwhere! People are saying it's not global warming it's the revelation's in the bible. Read it!!!Bad folks will get what they deserve ,Count on it !!!!

The Red Cross is a mess and most know that. It was a mess back in the 9/11 days and it is worse now. ok, so resources were limited - why should that stop them from letting people volunteer? Why should that keep them from at least telling the truth to people so they know to look elsewhere? Personally I believe there are many many good people that volunteer with the Red Cross, but I believe their upper management needs to be looked into by maybe the govt. AND an independent group. Make sure the money is where it should be and assess the roles of management within the organization (sorry, lack of better term for it). They have helped many around the world, but why is it they cannot get it together to help their own - hence the name "AMERICAN Red Cross". Sometyimes you have to pull the furniture away from the walls to see the real dirt and be able to clean it up.

Dear MR. Hargrove - Just yesterday I commented that we have no way of knowing how many people are still missing. Well, I just got my answer. Thank you so much. Sorry you didn't get more cooperation. So many must be so grateful to you! Regards to you and all of those working with you.

I have been looking for my wife Kim Phuong O'Brien nee Pham. I have not seen her name anywhere and I am so desperate. She is 37 yrs old speaks only fair English and was last known to be in New Orleans during Katrina. I beg of you and God to help me find her. dawoodyman@hotmail.com Thank you

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