`I'm still looking for'

September 28, 2005

Her mouth is firmly set; her chestnut eyes penetrating; her hair done up in braids and bows. But her expression suggests a child who is saddened, fearful, trying hard not to cry. She is known only as Tyler, a toddler found on a New Orleans street and brought to the city's convention center Aug. 31 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the words of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, she is a child "looking for parents" who remains on its list of displaced Katrina kids.

A gallery of their photographs ran on cable and news networks soon after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. But their stories have been overtaken by the landfall of another hurricane, Rita, a congressional inquiry into a lax government response to Katrina and the Texas recovery.

Efforts to reunite Katrina-fractured families shouldn't let up. The numbers of displaced children remain too great - 2,829, as of yesterday's national center count. Traumatized by Katrina's fury, the loss of their homes, the struggle to survive, many parents who were separated from their children in the crush to flee the rising waters don't have the means to search for them. They are living somewhere other than their hometowns, relying on aid groups for the basics. Some of them aren't old enough to know their last name or age. Others might have been orphaned by Katrina.

The missing children's network and the American Red Cross have led the way in trying to locate kids and reunite families. The national center has been registering Katrina kids on its Web site, www.missingkids.com, since Aug. 29. The Red Cross established a hot line (1-877-LOVED 1S) and offered its Web site as a sounding board - 144,567 people have posted "I'm looking for" pleas.

Through these networks, children have been found, parents located, families reunited - often through chance and luck. The Red Cross says at least 9,500 hot line calls resulted in a person found. The children's network reports 1,417 Katrina cases resolved.

That's the best kind of public service, facilitated by social service agencies, law enforcement, volunteers and citizens who paid attention to that parade of children's faces on the nightly news. But the sobering reality is many more people have not yet been found. The reports of dislocated adults - 10,664, as of yesterday's National Center for Missing Adults count - outnumber those of children.

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