The story assignment was simple -- a reality check on the effort to recover the bodies still buried in debris more than half a year after Hurricane Katrina.
I have lived in New Orleans nearly three months now. And working on this story, it struck me. Does the rest of the country realize only half the debris left by Katrina has been removed from Louisiana? Do they realize hundreds of bodies are still unaccounted for?
I drive by blocks and blocks and blocks of splintered homes every day, with people dressed in hazmat suits walking in and out of the houses they are gutting. But the real emotional button for much of New Orleans is the legion of people still listed as missing.
The Family Assistance Center puts the number at 1,495 people and dropping. No one really believes that many bodies will be found. That would more than double Katrina's death toll.
The state medical examiner estimates there are probably 400 people who died who haven't been discovered. Sad reality, most of them probably never will be. Authorities here suspect many washed into the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, or some bayou.
That doesn't mean crews aren't looking. Every day, cadaver dog teams get up, and in tedious fashion, they walk from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood. The monotony is broken every now and then when a dog makes a positive "hit" -- meaning it senses human remains or body fluid deep beneath debris.
It is grisly work. It is time-consuming. And it is important. Debris from areas like the lower Ninth Ward can't be removed until all suspect areas have been thoroughly checked.
It is going to take months to finish. People in charge tell me the effort to find bodies could still be going on even as we memorialize the first anniversary of Katrina next August.
Firefighters, dog teams, medical personnel, and others privately debate just how many more bodies will be found. Their answers may shock you. The low end -- in the teens. The highest number I have heard is about 60. That means a lot of families with missing loved ones will never get closure.