Thousands Still Unaccounted for After Katrina

ByABC News
November 22, 2005, 6:19 PM

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 23, 2005 — -- Three months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, thousands of people are still unaccounted for, and authorities are at a loss about how to track them down.

A group of New Orleans firefighters today went searching for bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward -- for the third time.

"On November 7th, we found five bodies. On November 8th, we found two," said Fire Department Chief of Operations Steve Glynn.

Glynn says it would be much easier to search for the missing if he knew who they were.

"We'll find them in small groups as we get better information," he said.

When residents were forced to evacuate New Orleans, it was utter chaos. Families were shipped to different parts of the country, and no one took records. Authorities say they are now having a tough time keeping track of who is missing.

There's even widespread disagreement on the numbers. The states say there are nearly 4,700 people unaccounted for. The National Center for Missing Adults, however, puts the number at 6,644 -- with 4,000 cases being actively investigated by the agency, said Kym Pasqualini, chief executive of the NCMA.

Authorities expect to find most of these people in shelters or apartments -- most a state or two away.

But the number of people unaccounted for is so high, officials worry there are more dead still to be counted.

"There's a lot of places where they're not letting people in because of the devastation," one returning resident told ABC News. "So it's very likely there are people in attics. It's a horrible thing."

Some of the missing are most likely already in the state morgue.

More than 400 bodies remain unidentified. DNA tests would provide answers, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency and states impacted by Katrina have been arguing over who will pay for them.

New Orleans resident Shawanne Mickey-Scott says, technically, her grandmother is missing. But possibly, she's in the same morgue where the family found her grandfather.

"We're just trying to get some closure with my grandmother," she said. "Once we get her, locate her body, put her to rest with my grandfather, then we can go ahead and grieve."

State officials say it could take years to get an accurate count of just who is missing, dead or alive.

ABC News' Steve Osunsami filed this report for "World News Tonight."