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Web site hopes to reunite Katrina kids with parents

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Web site needs help in identify children who are missing as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

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(CNN) -- When Hurricane Katrina ripped through the U.S. Gulf Coast region last week, she did more than take lives and destroy property. The storm, flooding and the chaos that followed separated families -- in many cases parents from their children.

A huge effort is under way online to reunite those torn apart by this tragedy. CNN anchor Miles O'Brien spoke with Ernie Allen, president and chief executive officer of National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, about a new Web site trying to reunite families.

O'BRIEN: You're rolling out a Web site today. Tell us a little bit about what it will do to help reunite children and their parents.

ALLEN: Well, the Justice Department has asked us to create a national hotline and Web site that will gather information about the people who are missing as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and also seek information from the public that will allow us to reunite families.

O'BRIEN: So, it's a clearinghouse for pictures, as well as information about these people that are missing?

ALLEN: Absolutely. We currently have representatives, part of our Team Adam program, on-site in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, who are going into shelters, using digital cameras to take photographs of people who have been dislocated from their families.

We're going to be putting that information on the Web site. We're also reaching out to the public to help us identify the missing.

O'BRIEN: The idea here is a good one, but obviously very early on here. We checked the site this morning. There are about a dozen pictures on there. Give us a sense of the full scope, and whether this one particular Web site is enough to answer the problem.

ALLEN: We really don't know what the full scope is, but we suspect that there are thousands of missing people. Just yesterday, we were able to identify seven children in a shelter in Baton Rouge pulled off a rooftop in New Orleans, who were in the shelter, but their parents were somewhere else.

And so, working with other agencies and authorities, we were able to identify that the mothers of these children were in a shelter in San Antonio [Texas]. Military aircraft flew them to San Antonio, and the families are reunited.

O'BRIEN: We're glad to hear that. How did you make that connection?

ALLEN: Well, we had a Team Adam representative who went into the shelter in Baton Rouge and talked to the children, tried to identify who was missing. So, this is not just an exercise in trying to identify who is missing, but in identifying the found and trying to connect found people to loved ones in other communities.

O'BRIEN: What about the youngest children? How are you going to identify them?

ALLEN: Well, we're going to try to identify them through photography, like we do any other missing child. And we're going to work with law enforcement, state and local law enforcement in the area, along with the FBI, the state missing children clearinghouses in the four states, other agencies.

And we're going to reach out to the public for help as we get these photos. We hope that you and other media will help us air them to try to identify the family members to whom they belong.

O'BRIEN: The sadder side of this is you are also helping identify bodies.

ALLEN: We recognize that this is a very likely reality, and that for many families the worst is the not knowing. So, we're going to use forensic technology and our forensic specialists, working with law enforcement, to identify the unidentified deceased.

O'BRIEN: For people who don't have access to computers -- and there's a fair number of people who barely have access to electricity at this point in that region -- you do have a hotline as well, a phone hotline. How will that be used, and how will that be helpful?

ALLEN: The hotline, 888-544-5475, goes up Monday at noon. We hope that people will call us with reports of missing loved ones, and call us with information when they see photographs.

We want it to be a kind of nerve center, a clearinghouse, working with the Red Cross and other agencies to do everything we can to identify these families. We encourage America to use it.

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