Data on Survivors Hard to Find, Collect

Thousands of evacuees across the nation are struggling to find out the fate and whereabouts of missing loved ones. But a main obstacle to a coordinated list culled from federal and relief agencies is that none of the databases interface.

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Wives searching for husbands, parents trying to locate their children--many survivors of Hurricane Katrina are desperate to locate loved ones they lost track of during the evacuations. One problem: the lack of a single database to keep track of the hundreds of thousands of people who fled Katrina and the floods that followed. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has been talking with evacuees at the Houston Astrodome.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Some hurricane and flood survivors say it's hard to move on with their lives while they don't know what happened to their relatives.

Mr. RAY WALKER: I don't know where my wife and kids are. It's been six days. I'm past desperate.

DEL BARCO: Ray Walker, who's 26 years old, has been searching for his wife, Unique(ph), and their children ever since he put them on the first rescue boat that came to their home in New Orleans. He hasn't heard from them since, though he's personally looked through all four shelters of the Astrodome complex.

Mr. WALKER: Walked from building to building, put it in all databases that I'm looking for her. So they got a lot of places still don't have databases that I can't check, but I know they made it out. So if they don't register, I can't find them. I'm looking for her daddy and hope that she's going to look for her daddy. I found him, so I know she could find him.

DEL BARCO: Using one of the computers set up at the Astrodome complex, Walker located his wife's father at a shelter in Ft. Worth, Texas. Now a volunteer helps Walker send an SOS message over the Internet.

Ms. ANNE RITCHIE(ph) (Volunteer): `Larry, please contact Ray Walker at his e-mail address.'

DEL BARCO: After typing in the message, volunteer Anne Ritchie shakes Walker's hand for luck.

Ms. RITCHIE: We're going to find them, man. You'd know. You'd know if something were wrong. You'd feel it, right?

Mr. WALKER: I know they made it 'cause I let them go first.

Ms. RITCHIE: They're in Texas somewhere.

DEL BARCO: There are now about a dozen Internet sites devoted to helping Katrina survivors search for missing relatives. But they don't list everyone or reach everyone, especially those staying in church shelters, hotels, private homes or with relatives. Houston volunteer Anne Ritchie says it's been difficult for people to find each other, even in the same city.

Ms. RITCHIE: The various shelters, they don't have any way to communicate with each other. Have you noticed that? So, like, we're here. We can communicate with the Astrodome and the Reliant Arena, and we can get some information from the George Brown. But let's say we know somebody's in San Antonio. We don't even have contact numbers.

DEL BARCO: This has been such an issue that some evacuees at the Astrodome have formed a leadership group to fight for more solutions. Activist Broderick Bagert says they're asking the Red Cross and other organizations to come up with a coordinated database of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

Mr. BRODERICK BAGERT (Activist): Incredibly, in this day and age, there's been no central database established, not even for the Astrodome, never mind nationally, OK? Right now the best option are kind of ad hoc blogs. There's a dozen of them or so. And they can be useful, but the quality is totally scattered. I mean, it's not at all the central database that's needed.

(Soundbite of public address message)

Unidentified Man: The Texas ...(unintelligible).

DEL BARCO: Messages over the public address systems in the shelters are often unintelligible, and people are not always around to hear them. But reunions are signaled with a ringing bell and screams of joy that resound up all nine floors of the sports arena. Still, many folks continue to simply walk around with photographs and hand-painted signs, and some resort to asking news reporters to give on-air shout-outs to their relatives.

Mr. REGGIE MOORE: Reggie Moore ...(unintelligible). I want to give a shout-out to my family members 'cause I'm missing my mama, my sister and my nieces and my nephews, my aunties, my uncles. I'm actually by myself.

DEL BARCO: Here inside the Astrodome in one corner, where it used to be a foul-ball net, people have posted up signs looking for loved ones. For example, `Looking for Charlie Rich(ph), Angela Davis(ph), Jomani Davis(ph), Dmitrius Dow(ph). Looking for Barbara Mason(ph), Rambo Glynn(ph), Dixon Glynn(ph).' On the message board there's also a sign that says, `If you lose hope, you've lost everything.' Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Houston, Texas.

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