Rescue workers are resorting to shoe leather and lots of old-fashioned detective work to reunite some of the hundreds of families blown apart by Hurricane Katrina.
“We just try to follow the trail of clues that are offered to us. But we are having some early successes,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The latest victory came Tuesday when 5-year-old Lecour Boyd was flown to Houston to be returned to his mother, Lakerisha Boyd, who is staying in a hotel near the Astrodome.
Investigators at the National Center first learned of the splintered Boyd family on Friday when social workers assembled a list of missing children from anxious parents assembled in a shelter near Baton Rouge, La.
Lecour’s name was on the list along with his date of birth and the cellular telephone number of his mother. Social workers also included the commentary that Lecour was “last seen on the bridge,” an apparent reference to the Interstate 10 causeway where thousands of New Orleans residents fled their flooded city.
The next clue came Saturday.
“Our hotline received a call from a social worker in White Castle, La., who said she had a child by the name of Lacour Boyd. But she didn’t know where he was from because he’d been transferred there from another shelter,” Allen said. “She thought the mom’s name was “LaQuisha” Boyd and that the child knew the name of his school and that he had three siblings.”
The Case Analysis Unit at the National Center began looking for the mother and noticed two reports with similar names. Workers couldn’t reach the woman through her cell phone since most of the New Orleans telephone system has failed.
National Center investigators in Baton Rouge tracked down the social workers who took the initial information and learned the mother had evacuated the area and was thought to be in a Texas hotel room across from the Astrodome. “So our staff started calling hotels under we found the mother,” Allen said.
Investigators on Sunday reunited Gabrielle Alexander, 2, with her mother, Marcelina Alexander, at the San Antonio Airport after successfully linking the missing child report with a report that a very young child who identified herself only as “Gabby” had been evacuated by helicopter from a New Orleans rooftop.
“We just keep looking for that one key piece of information that ties a parent to a child,” Allen said. “And we have to keep taking these one case at a time.”
As of noon Tuesday, the National Center’s dedicated hotline for missing person cases caused by Hurricane Katrina (1-888-544-5475) had received 677 missing children reports _ 637 from Louisiana, 37 from Mississippi and three from Alabama.
The National Center’s Web site at www.missingkids.com was also being inundated with so many visits _ which in Internet parlance are called “hits” _ by anxious family members that users were experiencing delays.
“What would normally be about one million hits a day for us is now averaging out to between 10 million to 20 million hits,” said Gary Taylor, manager of information technology for the National Center.
Peak use of the missing children site occurred between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Labor Day when the center was receiving 503 Internet queries a second.
The Justice Department has asked the center, funded by Congress and headquartered in this Washington suburb, to coordinate attempts to locate missing victims of Hurricane Katrina.
(Contact Thomas Hargrove at HargroveT(at)shns.com)