Friday, February 10, 2006
Viewer call leads to missing mom's body
We met Denise Herbert, a hurricane evacuee, last month in Atlanta. She told us that being displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina was the least of her problems, because her mother, Ethel Herbert, was still missing.

I was interviewing Denise at a program for hurricane victims, an event attended by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. In the middle of my interview, Denise both shocked and touched us by screaming uncontrollably that her elderly mother had been missing since two days after the hurricane and nobody in government had helped her.

The governor met with Denise and pledged help, but it was one of our viewers, David Lipin from California, who recognized a picture of Ethel Herbert from our story and called us. Lipin was part of a medical team that treated Ethel at the Superdome. He said she was in grave condition when she was put on an emergency helicopter. We then contacted officials at the morgue, and sadly, last week, they proclaimed that one of their unidentified bodies was that of Ethel Herbert.

So today, we are in New Orleans with Denise and other family members as they prepare for the funeral service tomorrow of the matriarch of their family. Denise is grief-stricken and heartbroken as she comes back to New Orleans for only the second time since Katrina. But she thanks God that her mother is no longer suffering and that she finally has a body to bury.
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 3:36 PM ET
  51 Comments
I rember watching Denise's story unfold, and it really got to me. I can't imagine how painful it would be not knowing if you mother was dead or alive. I'm glad Denise and her family will finally be able to lay her mother to rest.
Posted By Anonymous Molly, Coleville, CA : 3:52 PM ET
The story about Denise Herbert touched me very deeply. I can not image being told that you are not able to stay with and watch over your ailing mother who was not well enough to speak for herself. It had to be the hardest thing in the world to leave her in the care of total strangers in the midst of the evacuation chaos. I am certain Ms. Herbert would never have agreed to separate from her mother is she had thought for one moment it would have taken this long to find her again. To not be allowed to be there to comfort your loved one at the time of their passing must be horrific. I pray the Herbert family will be granted the strength and peace to deal with the indignity of their loss.
Posted By Anonymous Chriss Miller, Canton, OH : 3:53 PM ET
Thanks for letting us know. I really appreciate your work.
Posted By Anonymous Brian Charles, Conway, NH : 3:55 PM ET
Anderson, please be sure to let Denise know that thousands of people are grieving for her loss. I find it disgusting that this woman had to scream and loose her dignity to get people to help her find her mother. If only there was someplace we could march, something we could burn that would focus American attention back on this horrific and completely mismanaged situation ..........
Posted By Anonymous Kim Midland, Michigan : 3:58 PM ET
I saw Ms. Herbert on TV and I am sorry for her loss. And I understand her angry outburst. But I have a question: Why didn't she evacuate with her mother before the hurricane got there? Doing so might have kept her mother alive and avoided the pain the family is feeling right now.
Posted By Anonymous Tom, San Antonio, TX : 4:01 PM ET
What you guys at CNN can do for both viewers and Hurricane Katrina victims is amazing.

I hope other people, like Denise, can rest their hearts and souls knowing that they've finally found their loved ones.
Posted By Anonymous Kannade, Chapel Hill, NC : 4:03 PM ET
While it is fortunate that media coverage was finally able to bring this family some level of closure, it is deplorable that it took such a chain of events for an end to be realized. We are months removed from the onslaught of Katrina�s devastation and still, it is the media, not the region�s leadership, catalyzing results. Sad.
Posted By Anonymous Amanda, Princeton NJ : 4:14 PM ET
It is absolutely ludicrous that anyone has had to wait months to find out a loved one had died...

how many more bodies are out there still in the rubble??

and we live in the most industrialized country in the world?

I don't recall bodies being pulled from the rubble after months and months in Sri Lanka and the other areas affected by the Tsuanami...it is a sad time for this country...
Posted By Anonymous Tina Rodriguez, Morehead City, NC : 4:22 PM ET
Thank you for your good work in continueing the focus on this subject, and for standing by Denise, her family and other families affected by the disaster.

It's good that you remind us and shine a light on the evasiveness of our political leaders. We all need to "get real" about what happened on the gulf coast.
Posted By Anonymous Maile Rose, Seattle, WA : 4:27 PM ET
This is truly a heart-breaking story. I am glad that you, Anderson and the CNN team are keeping the story of the survivors and their lost loved ones alive. It's important for us to hear what is being done to help those in need and prevent this from happening again.
Posted By Anonymous Randa, Chicago IL : 4:28 PM ET
this a very sad truth that new orleans residents have encountered. many of their loved ones who they are still searching for may be lost or dead in and out of the city of new orleans with out their knowing. the question is how can finding their lost relatives become any easier process. My deepest sympathy goes out to Denise and her family.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer Canales, Houston, Texas : 4:28 PM ET
i,am so gald that she found her mother and so sad that she had pass
Posted By Anonymous Dexter Pineville la : 4:30 PM ET
After being exposed to so much pain and suffering via the media in the aftermath of Katrina, we, the American public, have become emotionally immune to the heartbreak's and emotional trauma still being felt by our fellow citizens. My sympathy goes out to this family with the hope that tomorrow brings a better day.

Working for a Federal Government reseller focused on designing IT solutions, the fundamental issue that I face every day is a pronounced sense of apathy and outright lack of caring from government officials. Rather then treating their jobs as ones with responsibility to the public, their mindset is either on "how do I get my next promotion" or "how much time is left until I can go home". Until officials change this mental outlook, the heartbreak and lack of action to recover from Katrina will continue.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Lillie, Ashburn VA : 4:35 PM ET
I know the pain of losing a parent. I can't imagine if I had to go through what Denise has been through. I do know that when that story came out thousands of people were praying with and for Denise. It may help to know that this story just reinforced the fact that change is needed. It should never happen again. Denise should have pride in the fact that she could make some people take notice as to what really is going on. There is a blessing in the fact that this story may cause some to think ahead next time. Bless you and your family, Denise hold your head up high and be proud that you might have contributed to some changes to be made.
Posted By Anonymous Karen Svehla, Lincoln, Nebraska : 4:36 PM ET
On why she didn't evacuate:

According to news stories, they had no car and Ethel (82) was unable to walk out, so they waited and hoped the storm would not be severe. We know now there was no evacuation plan for the lower income folks living in New Orleans.

When their second floor apartment was threatened by floodwater, they took apart Ethel's hospital bed and rebuilt it on the highway and went to the Superdome (as they were told to).

Medics flew Ethel out but would not let the daughter on the helicopter, nor take her medicine (which probably has her name on it and would have allowed them to contact the family).

I'm sure they are relieved to have closure, but personally I would rather not have my family tragedy debated on the world wide web.
Posted By Anonymous Brian Reeves, College Station, TX : 4:41 PM ET
In response to Tom in San Antonio, Tx
I don't know what Ms. Herbert's circumstances were before the hurricane hit, but there were many, many who did not have a means to pick up and leave. You may be able to grab your hat and car keys and leave, some people did not have a car nor train fare to do the same. A person should have to walk a mile in someones shoes before they find fault with a decision made. And yes, in all of our lives we can look back and see where we could have made a better choice.

I am thankful that Ms. Herbert knows now that her mom is at peace.

Rosemary, Oakland, CA
Posted By Anonymous Rosemary Watts, Oakland, CA : 4:43 PM ET
My heart and prayers go out to this family for their grief and loss. But I think the saddest part of this story is that this is not the only one of its kind. I wonder just how many displaced relatives were treated this way and ended up dead or a family member of someone who died. How disgraceful that in the "greatest country in the world" we are faced with a government who is unprepared, at the very least, to protect us from harm.
Posted By Anonymous Loryn, Greensboro, NC : 4:43 PM ET
I'm a comic in NYC. In November of 05 2 New Orleans police officers saw my show show and we talked afterwards.2weeks later I was in New Orleans for the first time in my life getting an extensive tour, from the officers, of the Parrishes, Lakeview and the 9th ward, They also told me thier stories, how they won't be sure how many people have died and various scenarios of thier city's future. I came home to NYC and was immediately struck by how organized the nightly trash looked on our city's corners and fell into depression that I could'nt control. Once myself again, I realized that while the Gulf will take years to rebuild, which will probably be done quicker than the hole at the World Trade Center, the people of New Orleans is the main reason that no one should let their stories be regulated to the back of the newspaper. 6 months have passed and its good to know 360 won't let the story fade away.Your show is as close as I can get to describing to people who have no connection with the city what is happening. Thank You.
Posted By Anonymous Exiene, Brooklyn, NY : 5:05 PM ET
My heart goes out to the families that have suffered so much after this terrible disaster. The U.S. Government and it's citizen's were not prepared for a disaster of this magnatude. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and be better prepared for future disasters. Everybody thinks this kind of thing cant happen here. We should have learned from Sept. 11th. that anything is possible and can strike us at anytime. I feel bad for this family and I'm sure that the fallout from this tragedy isnt by any means over.
Posted By Anonymous Harry Thompson , Tucson ,AZ : 5:07 PM ET
I can only imagine the horror this poor woman had to go through - ailing, alone, and desperate. And, what a loss for the family, who must be feeling so helpless with the loss of a loved one.
Posted By Anonymous Ava, Austin TX : 5:13 PM ET
My prayers to Denise and her family....and to all those suffering the same loss because of Katrina.
Every town in America that is able should adopt a "sister town" to help.
We are doing just that in Dover, Delaware.
Just because the devastation isn't the top story every night, doesn't mean the
"hell" isn't happening.
Do the brotherly thing and help.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer Bixler, Dover, Delaware : 5:19 PM ET
Sad that your mother died but I am sure you feel blessed that you know she has passed. Think of all those families who will never know where there loved ones have gone. I think the government should do something about the crisis of lost loved ones. What are they doing anyway? At least they could pay for their travel expenses for the families while they search.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Jacksonville, Florida : 5:24 PM ET
I have watched the coverage of Hurricane Katrina since day one. I can tell you as a Captain in the Marine Corps I am embarrassed for our country at how this was handled. The leadership that represents these victims should have been removed from office. If your leadership cannot take care of your needs then do what is right and move on. The federal government has kicked this ball in far left field. And no one wants to claim the blame for it. It is a sad, sad day when something like this goes this wrong.
Posted By Anonymous Michael , Norfolk, VA : 5:34 PM ET
This is a wonderful story, Gary. I'm glad Ms. Herbert was able to get the help she needed. You, Anderson, 360, and CNN have all been the sun in an ominous sky to these citizens affected by hurricane Katrina. If not for your televised report with Denise, this resolution to her problem would never have been reached.

It is a shame that her mother passed, but I'm certain Denise is happy that she can properly bury her and finally lay her to rest five months later. It's such a tragedy to have to wait so long to do that, but better late than never. Thank you for your unsolicited clean-up efforts. It should NOT have to be the media who helps these folks, but what a blessing it is that you are there to lend a helping hand.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy Tavernier, Orange, CA : 5:35 PM ET
From someone born/raised there, thank you for keeping this in the news...families are living in tents but we can send billions of dollars overseas....trailers are waiting for months just outside Mississippi/Louisiana for distribution. Disgraceful!
Posted By Anonymous michele maberry, Dallas TX : 5:36 PM ET
As heartless as this might sound (& I don't mean it to be), everyone who lived in New Orleans, prior to Katrina, knew they were living in a city that IS, in fact, BELOW SEA LEVEL. So letting the facts simply speak for themselves, why not just rebuild parts of the city that we know WON'T get devestated again WHEN the next hurricane comes through, or actually commit to the billions of dollars it's going to take to rebuild & fortify the levy once again, or at the very least, come up with a practical idea when hurricane season hits again?
Posted By Anonymous Christopher Thunder Eagle, Madison, WI : 5:43 PM ET
Prayers to Denise and her family for all they have suffered for sooooo long. I hope them know and understand how much the rest of the country feel for them and have them in their prayful thoughts.
Posted By Anonymous Rinda - Hillsboro,OH : 5:45 PM ET
Thank you for following up on this story.

I would rather watch follow-up stories of this kind instead of continued coverage about pretty-white-women-murdered-by-their-pretty-white-husband stories,(with all due respect to the Entwistle family and their loss.)
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Boulder, Colorado : 5:57 PM ET
Didn't the majority of the residents of New Orleans know a hurricane was about to hit their area? I am amazed that no one was prepared. First, individual families. Didn't they think they might get separated in the chaos? I have heard numerous accounts of people turning over their loved ones (elderly parents, infants, toddlers,etc) to complete strangers without getting a destination or giving identification. I am astounded that rescue personnel did not use Triage tags for as I.D. purposes. They do it in wars for the injured, yet, they couldn't do it here? There was no direction nor guidance. Officials who should've taken steps to be prepared, took a blase~ attitude (we've been thru this before), or they made a turf war (you're not telling ME what to do in my own city/state...). That's why I ask: Didn't they know about the hurricane? I live in Southern Calif. I know there will one day be a very large quake. We do not know when. Unlike hurricanes, they cannot be tracked for days ahead. Yet I must think ahead for the chaos, possible separation from my children. All officials know that in any emergency preparation you expect and plan for the worse case scenario. But it is as if the city (both residents and officials) did not take the hurricane or its potential dangers serious, nor gave any thought to the "what would happen if the levee broke?"
It is terribly sad for people to die alone. It is terribly sad and heartbreaking for surviving family members to KNOW their loved one died alone.
Everyone needs to look at their own surroundings, their own area hazards, and (keeping in mind all the sorrow, the tragedies, the disaster, the loved ones dying alone..) and ask themselves: "If an earthquake, a tornado, a hurricane, a firestorm, whatever, were to happen here, what am I going to do to keep from being caught in the same situation as so many found themselves in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. People MUST take warnings of impending danger, serious. Even if it turns out not to be as bad as it was thought. Over prepared with a dud, is so much better than not prepared in a disaster.
Everyone (especially any official) should study the emergency drill and subsequent emergency of Souix City, Iowa when the United Airliner crashed into their airport. Because they were prepared for the worst, and IMPROBABLE event, they worked together and followed their Emergency Procedures over 1/2 of the passengers survived in what is called an unsurvivable crash.
That's why I ask: "Didn't anyone know this hurricane was coming?"
Posted By Anonymous Mallina B, San Diego CA : 6:03 PM ET
It's sad that her mom died, but now that she knows what happened to her, there can be closure to this situation. May all the Hurricane victims from Katrina, Rita, and Wilma find closure to their situations.
Posted By Anonymous Jared, Cambridge, MA : 6:22 PM ET
To the San Diego comment: yes we knew the storm was coming. How could we not but storms can change up to hours before landfall. One degree can be the difference between New Orleans and Bay St. Louis. Remember Lily? No I guess not. Lily was a huge hurricane headed straight for my parish in Terrebonne at a category 4. The night before landfall it completely dissipated into a category 1. How can anyone know what is to happen? How is the entire state with all the low lying areas to be evacuated? Where in the hell are all those people supposed to go? Many people are too stubborn to leave because they survived Betsy, Camille, and Andrew. This has already been a mass exodus of people and not all got out. The Hebert story is horrible and yet I know of so many more in my area. My grandpa had to place my great uncle in a nursing home in early August because he needed help 24/7. We had no clue where he was until the night of my sister's wedding on the Saturday post-Katrina when everyone had gone home. All the stories are tragic. All the stories are real and should be kept in the headlines and on blogs like these.
Posted By Anonymous Monique, Houma, LA : 6:34 PM ET
I saw that interview and it was one of the best. Thanks to reporters like you, these people are being helped.
Posted By Anonymous Linda Williams, Las Vegas, Nv. : 6:46 PM ET
I remember when that story aired. My heart broke all over again hearing the utter fear, greif, frustration and very justifiable rage in that poor woman's voice. May her Mother rest in peace and may God comfort her grieving family.
Posted By Anonymous Liz, Baltimore, Maryland : 6:48 PM ET
Be whatever personal issues people had with trying to evacuate it is disgraceful that in this country U.S. citizens have gone through so much beaurocratic red tape just to try and survive,not really live just make it from day to day. Thanks so much for keeping this story alive AC and crew. Prayers go out to all who survived and sadly those who didnt.
Posted By Anonymous Julie, erwin, TN : 6:57 PM ET
I remember this story very much...it was very disheartening to see the grieve this woman was going through due to not knowing where her mother was...I did see the update of her receiving the phone call of her mother being found and the outcome...my heart goes out to her as well as the other families that lost love ones.
Keep up the good work Gary in reporting stories like this one.
Posted By Anonymous Linda....Atlantic Canada : 7:17 PM ET
Nice piece on a very sad topic. Thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin O'Brien, San Francisco, CA : 7:28 PM ET
So very sad to say the least. At least she can bury her precious mama.

We can give billions to the people on the other side of the world but cannot take care of our own. I have been a Republican all my life but the worm is turning. No more.
Posted By Anonymous Dorothy Argo, Austin TX : 7:44 PM ET
Gary,

Thanks for your article and the awareness you create so the rest of the country will not forget what happened down here and what we are still struggling with. I wonder if we will ever completly recover economically from the ramifications of the storm.

Michael Griffin
New Orleans
Posted By Anonymous Michael Griffin, New Orleans, LA : 8:28 PM ET
Since I saw this story, I was wondering if there would be a follow-up. Thank you so much for telling her story.
Posted By Anonymous Kim Whitehead- Atlanta, GA : 9:10 PM ET
i remember seeing you on cnn sitting with the governor...god bless you and your mom...you deserve this country's attention,and so much more.
Posted By Anonymous Charity Rodriguez, Ventura, California : 9:42 PM ET
I pray that Denise can be strong, life leads somewhere and has meaning. I think her mm has found her place.
Please do not let this be repeated, please close the areas that should not have people living there, don't allow it to happen again. Let common sense point to where we should start over.
Posted By Anonymous Tim, Boca Raton, Fl. : 9:51 PM ET
I am struck by the fact that there is never any mention of how many people lost their lives in Katrina. Is it because no one knows or is it because most of the people who died were likely poor and disenfranchised. I'd like to know the numbers of dead and missing even it was an estimate.
Posted By Anonymous Janet Boston,MA : 10:27 PM ET
It amazes me that this family had not already found their missing mother at the morgue. It's been months and the government has asked for dna samples and other help many times.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon, Sarasota, FL : 11:32 PM ET
This is so touching, I am in Jamaica but I follow the Katrina story as well as CNN story on a whole, my prayers continue to be with all those who have been affected by Katrina in one way or the other and moreso with Denise, May light perpetual shines on your mom
Posted By Anonymous Valrie, Kingston-Jamaica : 12:55 AM ET
Katrina was and is a life altering event. I think we have all become more tolerant and greatful for the small things. It will be a long time before things get back to normal, maybe never. It is hard for me to understand the destruction that Katrina has caused, you can ride for hours and not see a house that can be lived in. Please do not let the rest of the nation forget about New Orleans, we need HELP, PLENTY HELP
Posted By Anonymous David Heitmeier New Orleans : 3:12 AM ET
How about some positive aspects of "The Hurricane", the people who helped their neighbors, the mercy that was show from one human to another. I know this quality exists in this country, it happens all over, every day in small ways. We are a giving nation and essesntially it is in our heritage from the beginnings of this country.
I have to say honestly that I am "burned out" by the litiany of pitifullness. I blame this on the news media who happens to dig out every pathetic story they can and jams it down out throats. Eventually the public becomes immune to the constant pleading.
Sorry guys but I hope it does not break your hearts that I do not watch the news anymore, I occasionally read the papers and yes I still care a lot about my fellow man but enough is a enough. Have you ever considered what the constant bombardment by atrocies does to the average mind. Let alone the somewhat unstable one. I saw a guy one day in my emergency room who was convinced that terrorists had implanted bombs in his chest and wanted the immediate services of a surgeon. He ran out the door before we could intervene. I had a fleeting thought that I hoped he did not blow up in some public place, sigh!
Posted By Anonymous Mary JJohnson, North Branch, Mn : 5:11 AM ET
The way you Americans unite when a catastrophe strikes your land is quite admirable. America must be strong and lead the world, not by war, but by providing a shinging example. The way you Americans reacted to Katrina exemplifies what I love best about your country: America is one, there is only one America. God Bless America
Posted By Anonymous James A. Papastamos, Hamilton ON CANADA : 6:32 AM ET
Her nightmare is over. I wonder if there are any others who still remain unsure of loved ones? I re-read the article, the interview/show was ONE MONTH ago (JAN) and this woman still had no idea where her mother/mother's remains were. I don't think she was alone in her desperation. Does anyone know how many are still unaccounted for? The whole handling of this disaster is a sad travesty. Our Nation does not seem to me, the same as it once was.
Posted By Anonymous Stephen Martin, Santa Monica, CA. : 8:12 AM ET
Re: the San Diego comment: You have to have lived in the southern region to truly understand what it is like evacuating year after year. Here's a little bit of reality. For the elderly who have limited funds can't afford to do this often. The time, cost, and physical work of boarding up your home, packing things to take with you, getting in a vehicle that hopefully can make it on the road 10+ hours and finding a hotel that will accept you, your family members and pets. When you have had to do this THREE times within one year....I said THREE times. Having survived these hurricanes before, would make you reconsider evacuating when you are already exhausted by 2 others before. With no government plan to help these folks, you are going to get another situation like this. Even by you in San Diego.

You can't fathom what will possibly happen in an earth quake situation, especially if it happened from San diego all the way up to San Francisco. I can almost guarantee that if there was an quake to happen right now on the west coast (I pray it doesn't happen), FEMA isn't going to be their like you would hope.

Now, what many don't realize is that some who have tried to evacuate Katrina did so fairly late in the game...hence the late warnings by the government. The traffic jam was so bad, no one was moving. And if you just happened to be on the back side of the traffic jam, the police / fire dept. had to figure out how to relieve it somehow. Thus, cutting off certain points and turning people around. This happened to my sister and her family on the Westbank. They then needed to hunker down and hope for the best.

To some extent, you want to trust the levees, but even we locals (I now live in NJ) speculated about them for years. If the government cared about the people like they do those darn oil refineries, then maybe the billion of dollars that flow into sucking fuel and marshland out of that region can be put back into it for safety's sake.
Posted By Anonymous Antonina (Toni) Pascual, South Orange, NJ : 9:56 AM ET
Many prayers and hugs for Denise and her family who have endured things no person should ever have to endure.
Posted By Anonymous Susan Axtell,Trumansburg, NY : 10:58 AM ET
Her story is so sad, but I'm glad she found her mama & had the opportunity to say goodbuy. So many others have no idea where or if their family members are safe, or even alive. Many will go their own way and never know. Keep up the coverage, you're doing a great job in keeping it in the forefront.
Posted By Anonymous Jeanne Landry, Cape Coral, Fl. : 11:08 AM ET
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