The state of Kentucky is still reeling from the devastation caused by the flooding that occurred last week. While more than 1,400 Kentucky residents have been rescued from the wreckage, more than 100 people are still missing and unaccounted for. Scores of missing people are just one of the tragic effects of natural disasters throughout history—families displaced and separated by destruction and want of resources. Searching for missing persons in natural disasters is always an uphill battle, but with autonomy and due-diligence, there is hope.  

Missing person searches are inherently complicated by their very nature, but the exacerbating circumstances of natural disasters can make them even more complicated. Natural disasters like floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes can destroy the established lines of communication that missing person searches are dependent upon. Families are unable to contact their loved ones due to things like downed power lines, lack of Wi-fi, displacement, or grievous injury. Police also become inundated with these reports and have to perform triage in the order of operations to determine which cases are the most urgent. Unfortunately, due to the large volume of people in need, families are often alone in searching for missing persons in natural disasters.  

One of the most daunting tasks during the recovery stages of a natural disaster is the cataloging of remains pulled from the wreckage. This means the remains of missing persons in natural disasters can go unclaimed for months or even years. However macabre, these catalogs make it much simpler for families to submit samples of their loved one’s DNA in order to identify any relatives whose remains were recovered. This allows officials to give names to the remains and give families the closure they so desperately need. Relief organizations from FEMA to the Red Cross have online resources with steps private citizens can take to find information about missing persons after a natural disaster. While the reality of submitting one’s DNA for identification purposes might impose an emotional toll that’s too great for some, it is one of the most effective ways to get definitive answers. Families can find closure in knowing the fate of their lost relative or friend. 

According to relief organizations throughout the United States, the name of the game now is reunification—doing whatever is possible to reconnect those displaced by tragedy to their remaining loved ones. For example, one of the many reunification resources offered by FEMA is a collaborative effort with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, supporting all measures to return minors under the age of 21 to their parents or guardians. The American Red Cross has a similar database project called Safe and Well, which is an online database designed to help reunited families. Regardless of the scale of the disaster, Safe and Well is administered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and works closely with the local Red Cross Chapter of the area in question. While many will experience the miracle of reunification, the terrible reality is that so many more will be left with unanswered questions.