Katrina dead are not forgotten
IT STARTED with the mournful sound of taps, America's tribute to the fallen, played by a trumpeter on a bridge overlooking the flood-ravaged landscape of New Orleans. Then came the wreaths, the tears - and a jazz parade.
As the United States marked the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a national day of remembrance, survivors gathered to remember the 1,695 lives and countless communities that were lost along the Gulf Coast as a result of the storm, the flood and the chaos that unfolded on 29 August, 2005.
An army of politicians led by George Bush, the US president, surged into the region to join the commemorations, which began with sombre ceremonies and ended in New Orleans with a traditional jazz funeral parade.
But it was the pain of the people that spoke the loudest. "Mr President, are you going to turn your back on me?" a waitress asked Mr Bush as he passed by her on a visit to a devastated city neighbourhood.
"No ma'am, not again," joked the president - whose administration's slow response to the catastrophe drew heavy criticism - apparently oblivious to the metaphor.
Among the displaced who returned yesterday was Herbert Freeman, who says that the city, state and federal governments did turn their backs on him and his 91-year-old mother, Ethel. He rescued his disabled mother from the tide, placed her on a boat and pushed it for two miles through chest-high water to the city's convention centre, where he was told there would be medical help, food and evacuation buses. But there was nothing and after two days in heat, squalor and chaos, the woman died.
Mr Freeman, 59, watched over his mother's body for another two days, but when buses finally arrived the National Guard ordered him at gunpoint on to a vehicle that took him to Alabama, leaving the body untended.
Photographs of Mrs Freeman's corpse abandoned slumped in a wheelchair became one of the most indelible images of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, epitomising a city's agony and a nation's shame. "This anniversary is important. It will help me to let the world know what happened, how the system failed my mama, but that she's home now with God," said Mr Freeman.
Of the 1,474 people who were killed in Louisiana, the bulk of whom died in the flood in New Orleans, 49 remain unidentified. Their bodies are stored in refrigerated lorries, awaiting names.
But in Mississippi, where 231 died, two strangers whose bodies remain unclaimed were laid to rest by Gary Hargrove, the Harrison County coroner. He organised a funeral and laid the two men - one black, one white - in graves dug side by side.
On their headstones are their new names chosen by the coroner, local officials and rescue teams: Will and Strength. "Their names represent the will of the people to move forward, and the strength of the people to rebuild," he said.
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