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More than 2,000 children are still missing or separated from their families.


Published: Mon, September 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


More than 2,000 children are still missing or separated from their families.
COMBINED DISPATCHES
Two people accused of posing as American Red Cross volunteers and taking in as much as $2,000 have been charged in the first federal case involving an alleged Hurricane Katrina relief scam, prosecutors in Los Angeles said.
Tino Lee, 44, of Burbank, Calif., and Gina Liz Nicholas, 19, of Glendale, Calif., were charged during the weekend, the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement. Both were in custody pending a hearing today.
Authorities said the two set up a table with a collection box outside a Best Buy store in Burbank and displayed fliers that read: "Help Now. American Red Cross Relief For Hurricane Katrina."
They had collected as much as $2,000 in cash, as well as a check for $200, before their arrest, authorities said.
Federal law bars anyone from impersonating a Red Cross worker. A conviction can lead to five years in prison.
Health care hurting
Health care facilities in New Orleans have been shattered to an extent unmatched in U.S. history, and its hospital system faces grave challenges as residents begin returning, the vice president of the national hospital accreditation organization said Sunday.
The official, Joe Cappiello, said several hospitals were probably damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Katrina, while some may try to rush back into business before conditions are safe.
Others, while rebuilding, may lose doctors and nurses to communities elsewhere.
He also recounted harrowing details of how doctors and nurses felt compelled -- against the fundamentals of their training -- to make triage-style choices during the flood.
They were forced to aid some patients at the expense of others with less chance of survival.
Although the city has more than a dozen hospitals, none has resumed normal operations.
In the Gulf Coast area devastated by the hurricane, the search for bodies continues. The death toll linked to the hurricane rose to 883 by Sunday night, with 646 in Louisiana alone.
Missing children
More than 2,000 children from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are still missing or separated from at least one parent or other caregiver, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is maintaining a database of the missing.
"Each of us who have children know what it's like to lose your child for a minute in a department store, so we can imagine what these families are feeling and what they're thinking if they've been separated from their children for the last week or so," first lady Laura Bush said during a visit to the center's Alexandria, Va., headquarters Friday.
So far, more than 750 children from Louisiana have been reunited with their families.
Photographs of dozens of missing children are posted on the nonprofit organization's Web site, www.missingkids.com.
Also pictured are children who have been found safe, largely in shelters, but who are still looking for their parents or caregivers.
Overwhelming donations
The donations of furniture, toys and clothing -- "a Mount Everest" of clothes at the Salvation Army alone -- are filling warehouses, truck trailers and even churches as people comb their homes for castaway items to send to those who lost everything in the storm.
Beth Boone, a public affairs volunteer for the national Red Cross, said it's an issue across the country. That agency is only accepting cash or orders of bulk goods that meet the hurricane victims' immediate needs, she said.
"In kind" donations -- for instance, clothing -- can be more trouble than they're worth.
"The sorting, the cost involved in packaging and distributing smaller receipts like a truckload of toys, is almost greater than the costs of purchasing items locally," she said.
Recovery situation
House Republicans are looking at delaying some federal spending, including money for highway projects and a Medicare prescription drug benefit, to offset the cost of rebuilding the Gulf Coast, a leading GOP fiscal conservative says.
Democrats question how President Bush can pay for the Katrina recovery and still support tax cuts.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin wants to start bringing residents back to his city starting today with the Algiers section, across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. But Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen urges New Orleans residents to delay their returns a bit longer.
Allen says the city needs drinkable water, a 911 system and a way to notify people of future storms that might overcome the weakened levees.
"We can do that, and we can do that fairly soon," he says, "but it's very, very soon to try and do that this week."
Suburban New Orleans residents find a few stores and coffee shops already stocked and open as they return to storm-damaged homes in Jefferson Parish for the first time.
Thousands of residents began returning to their homes in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie on Sunday after local officials gave the all-clear, finding debris-strewn yards and homes without power or working sewers.
Double wedding
New Orleans refugees Troy Williams and Dorothy Merrick exchanged wedding vows Sunday in a ceremony planned by American Red Cross volunteers.
They were one of two couples at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., who were engaged before the storm hit.
The other couple, Keishona Frazier and Robbie Roby, also of New Orleans, were married in an afternoon ceremony at the shelter's chapel. There was a joint reception for both couples, complete with jambalaya.
Jennifer Cross helped organize Sunday's ceremonies and served as a bridesmaid for both brides.
She said the planning started Wednesday, and by Sunday, the chapel, dresses, flowers and food were lined up.
"That's the thing about Louisianians," Cross said.
"You can kick us down, but we get right back up."


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