Thursday, September 15, 2005

Recovering the dead from Katrina

posted by Rob at 8:34 AM

Yesterday the governor of Louisiana followed the president - again. After Bush took responsibility for the federal response to Katrina, Gov. Kathleen Blanco took responsibility "for failures and missteps in the immediate response to Hurricane Katrina."

Good for her, I guess. What sticks with me, though, is her complaint from Tuesday:
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco lashed out at FEMA on Tuesday, complaining the agency is moving too slowly in recovering the bodies of those killed by Hurricane Katrina.

The dead "deserve more respect than they have received," she said at state police headquarters in Baton Rouge.

Her words were ringing in my head when I heard a report on NPR this morning on efforts to recover the dead. It's not online, but this story touches on some details:

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who heads the federal on-site relief and recovery effort, says each team will include four people in addition to a chaplain.

The chaplain will say a prayer before any body is removed, Allen said.

Allen told reporters Wednesday in New Orleans that after the forensic evidence has been gathered, "There will be a ceremonial symbolic washing of the body to honor the dead as observed in the Christian, Jewish and Muslin faiths."

Allen is quoted as saying he spoke with Blanco about her complaints. She has since "signed a contract with a private company to speed the process.":

The state of Louisiana will pay Kenyon International Emergency Services almost $119,000 a day for two months for the job of recovering, documenting and handling the bodies of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to documents released by the state.

Allen said the call cleared the air with the governor and that he told Blanco he accepted personal responsibility for any perceived problem with the recovery effort.

A rate of $119,000 a day for two months equals just over $7 million. This article from last week says Kenyon International has "been hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help recover the bodies of those killed by Hurricane Katrina" in both Louisiana and Mississippi.

It seemed odd to me that the state and FEMA were contracting with the same company to recover the same bodies, until I found this story:
Kenyon initially said last week it had been hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recover bodies in New Orleans and elsewhere.

But on Tuesday Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the state had signed a contract directly with the company because the recovery work was going too slowly and Kenyon was threatening to pull out for lack of a written contract with FEMA.

FEMA said it offered a contract to Kenyon, which the company declined. It also said the state's contract with Kenyon was eligible for reimbursement under various federal relief programs.

A spokesman for Service Corp. International, which owns Kenyon, could not immediately comment on whether the contract would have a material impact for SCI.

I had never heard of Kenyon before, but the company has a long history of working with countries devastated by massive tragedies. But then I read this regarding its owner SCI:

Service Corporation International (SCI), the largest funeral services provider in North America, implicated in scandals in Texas and Florida, recently learned that one of its subsidiaries is negotiating a lucrative contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remove dead bodies in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

SCI paid $100 million to settle a class-action lawsuit several years ago alleging the company desecrated thousands of corpses, and dumped bodies into mass graves.
I don't mean to imply or suggest any wrongdoing or scandal. But gobs of money are in play and already there's confusion over who is paying whom for what. I wonder how much will go to fraud or waste.


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