August 29, 2010; Source: Houston Chronicle | How many people know that a New Orleans-based nonprofit created a monument to Katrina that is like the Hurricane version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? As of 2007, Louisiana had counted 1,464 people killed by the hurricanes and 135 people missing (as distinct from the Katrinalist count of some 3,500 killed or missing due to storm and after-storm conditions).

Of the 1,464 official victims, the names of 500 haven’t been released and, sadly, 31 bodies in New Orleans remain unidentified and unclaimed. The effort to identify the unknown victims seems to have stalled. But work hasn’t stopped for the New Orleans coroner, Frank Minyard, who created a nonprofit, the New Orleans Katrina Memorial Corporation. The nonprofit is responsible for building a Katrina monument atop the former Charity Hospital Cemetery site, in which the bodies of the 31 unnamed dead and 54 unclaimed bodies have been placed in granite-faced mausoleums.

The $1.5 million monument received at least $1 million from the city of New Orleans in 2008 drawn from federal funds. The Katrina Memorial group is a 501(c)(3), listed in the IRS Publication 78, but it used the Greater New Orleans Foundation as its fiscal agent and consequently, despite its fundraising beginning in 2007 and its exempt status award in 2008, there are no Form 990s for it posted on GuideStar.

Minyard’s charity is not only a memorial to the unnamed and unclaimed dead, but to the Third World nature of this disaster in which the wealthiest nation in the world cannot accurately count or even find the people killed by the largest natural disaster since the Galveston hurricane at the turn of the last century.—Rick Cohen