Monday, October 06, 2008

Ike Aftermath: Recovering the Dead

The hunt for those who lost their lives to Hurricane Ike continues:

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Ike pummeled the Texas coast, officials say more than 400 people are still listed as missing.

Most of them are likely alive, just unaccounted for. But officials fear the body count, now at 33 in Texas, will continue to rise.

In Chambers County, search crews are still going out every day looking for victims, including in debris fields.

At a time of year when John Feist, a game warden for Texas Parks and Wildlife, would normally be looking for illegal alligator hunters, he has been enlisted in the growing army of searchers.

His area in southeast Texas had the geographic bad luck of catching immense piles of debris blown over from Bolivar Peninsula, which was raked clean by Ike.

Bolivar Peninsulas, you may recall, was virtually obliterated by Ike. Almost no houses remain standing, and the powerful winds and waves washed debris and bodies miles away from the island.

So far, the searchers have discovered only one fatality in Chambers County. Gail Ettenger's body was discovered 10 miles inland from where she tried to ride out the storm in her beach house. She was 58.

More detail from the NY Times:

All last week, volunteers and state rescue workers combed miles of debris on the peninsula and in the marshes on the east side of Galveston Bay, using dogs trained to find human cadavers.

The volunteers say it is slow going, wading through salt grass and brackish gullies, full of the detritus of ruined lives — broken houses, boats, cars, machinery, appliances, toilets, bicycles, toothbrushes, vases, tools.

Two bodies of people from the Bolivar Peninsula have been recovered so far. On Sept. 24, Gail Ettinger, 58, a chemist who worked for oil companies, was found dead, face down in a marsh on the mainland, about 10 miles from where her house in Gilchrist succumbed to the floodwaters. Three days later, Herman Mosely, a carpenter in his 40s who was last seen in a local bar, was found on a small uninhabited island in Galveston Bay.

So complete was the devastation on the peninsula that county officials and local firefighters fear some hurricane victims may be lost at sea or hidden in the vast marshes of Chambers County, just east of Houston.

“Some people will never be found,” said Colin Rizzo, the county official overseeing the search.

If you want to help, go here, or here.

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