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Many Dead May Stay Nameless

They died on flooded city streets in the Big Easy and in country homes in Mississippi. One survived seven months of combat in Iraq only to die near his boyhood home. An 80-year-old woman died sitting in a bedroom chair when a tree crashed through the roof. One man was killed when he went out to his car to charge his cell phone during the storm.

A woman known only as "Vera" was struck by a car after the hurricane hit, according to her husband.

Most of the dead from Hurricane Katrina (search) don't have names yet. Many will never be identified because their bodies decomposed in the floodwaters and heat before they were found.

For some, a few details are emerging from relatives who want them remembered:

— Jewelry shop owner David "Kip" Logan, 49, liked to play golf and hunt and attended a Baptist church. His last act was to tell his wife to run as a tree cracked and fell on the porch of his Laurel, Miss., home, collapsing an awning on top of him.

Deborah Logan suffered two broken vertebrae and broken fingers, but stayed with her husband as neighbors pulled him from the wreckage, dug a damaged car out of the debris and drove him to the hospital.

"I held his head in my hands the whole way," Deborah Logan said.

— For some reason, 43-year-old Vicky Thaggard wrote a letter to her preacher four months ago describing how she wanted her funeral carried out. She died when a tree fell on her car in Leake County, Miss.

"Different people think you know before you die," said Kay Cain, her niece. "I don't know. ... Why else would she leave a letter like that?"

— Whenever Merry Thompson went out for a drive, she was accompanied by a 3½-foot-tall stuffed toy, Sylvester the cat. It was a tribute to her late father, who was named Sylvester, and it was guaranteed to draw stares from drivers around Eagle Lake, Miss.

The 43-year-old died when a tree fell on her mobile home.

"She's crazy — not looney-bin crazy — but she just had a lot of personality," her son, Nick Thompson, said. "She's very outgoing and warm."

— Josh E. Russell had spent a tour in Iraq, then switched to the National Guard from the Marine Corps (search) so he could spend more time at home. The 27-year-old was killed when the Humvee he was riding in hit debris on a highway in Pearl River County, Miss.

Russell was nervous about being called into action, sent into the teeth of the hurricane, said his widow, Jamie Russell.

"He didn't want to go, because he knew it was going to be a bad storm. But he went, because that was his duty," she said.

These are just a few of the dead whose names are known and whose stories are being told. But there are sure to be thousands more in months ahead.

Many, like the man whose body was on a wooden cart on New Orleans' Rampart Street (search) near downtown may simply be buried in anonymous pauper's graves. The elderly man was wrapped in a child's bedsheet decorated with the cartoon characters Batman, Robin and the Riddler. He had one shoe on, one off.

Identifying the dead will be a daunting task, made even more desperate because many will likely be bloated and decomposed by the time they're taken away. FEMA officials said they would try to locate dental records, but urged family members to bring in photos, fingerprints or even a toothbrush or provide DNA samples.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned the nation to prepare for the worst as bodies believed to be in houses and in floodwaters are recovered.

"It is going to be about as ugly of a scene as I think you can imagine," Chertoff said.

Slowly, though, some faces are being matched with the dead, mostly by family members.

For days, mystery shrouded the body of "Vera" as closely as the sheet that eventually cloaked her body. She stayed there in the Garden District, at the corner of Jackson and Magazine, with a spraypainted tribute on the sheet over her: "Here lies Vera. God help us."

Vera turned out to be 66-year-old Elvira Smith, who lived with her common-law husband, C.N. Keene, about five blocks from where she was killed. Sitting shirtless and with a growth of beard on the front porch of his modest duplex, Keene said he last saw his wife Monday after the hurricane struck.

Keene said she was on her way to Jewel's grocery when someone driving in the frantic aftermath of the hurricane struck her just a few feet from the store entrance and sped away. The next day, Keene said he walked over and put a bedspread over her body but he didn't want to return to it.

On Saturday, Keene was sitting on his porch when a man came up to him with some news.

"Some guy I didn't even know named John came by and said, 'I've just buried Elvira in the park,'" Keene said. Her body remained in the same spot, but a short wall of bricks had been built around her, anchoring the tarp.

"I told him I appreciated it," Keene said.