Harrison County Coroner close to Katrina closure

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The number is 312. That's how many graves and mausoleums were disturbed throughout Harrison County by Hurricane Katrina. It has taken six years for the coroner's office to sort, identify and return all the remains. All but one.

"We're getting close. It's been a long, hard road to try and get this done," said Coroner Gary Hargrove.

When first recovered, there were few details about the remains of Inez Benoit. Coroner Gary Hargrove only had a last name, no records and just a hunch on where she belonged. Her casket was recovered from a tree in Pass Christian the day after the storm.

In addition to reburying disinterred remains, the coroner's office faced the harrowing task of also dealing with Katrina's victims, around 140 in all.

One by one victims were identified, and remains relocated in a long tedious process.

"Family members have moved and have evacuated out and not come back that you got to track them down. And it's taken some time to track them down," said Hargrove.

Ms. Benoit's remains have patiently waited to be returned. While tracking down the needed information, Hargrove stored her remains in a vacant building near his office.

Unfortunately, the casket and remains caused quite a stir when some construction workers stumbled upon the storage site in April. [Click here for that story.]  However, the attention did do some good.

After much searching and research Hargrove has located Ms. Benoit's family in Mexico, and believes she belongs in St. Paul's Cemetery in Pass Christian.

"If I can get this last project and this last person, who had obviously died long before Katrina, back in her resting place, then I'll be very satisfied with the job I did after Katrina," said Hargrove.

In a way, the coroner is haunted by his experiences after the storm.  He said a day never passes, that he doesn't think of all Katrina's victims.

"As time goes on, it doesn't make it better. You learn to live with it. It's never going to get better because people lost their lives," said Hargrove. "The question is-have we learned enough? Have we done enough to make sure the next go round we get our people out of here and make them safe? And, I think we have."

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