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2 Storm Victims Unknown, Not Unforgotten

August 29, 2006

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) _ Nobody knows the names of the men who were buried side by side in matching silver caskets on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

For now, ``Will″ and ``Strength″ will have to do.

The two victims were given symbolic names before they were laid to rest in a city-owned cemetery in this town ravaged by the hurricane on Aug. 29, 2005.

``‘Will’ represents the will of the people to move on. ‘Strength’ represents the strength of the people to rebuild together,″ said Gary Hargrove, coroner for Mississippi’s most populous coastal county.

More than 100 people _ a mixture of emergency workers, city officials and residents _ watched in silence as pallbearers removed the caskets, draped in American flags, from two hearses. As the brief ceremony ended, bouquets of red roses replaced the flags.

A priest, a minister and a synagogue leader conducted the graveside service since authorities don’t know the men’s religious faiths.

``God knew who these people were. He knew their names,″ said Chris Chavers, 38, of Lucedale, who brought her 7-year-old son Bryce to the service. ``Even though we didn’t know them, everybody matters.″

The Rev. Rosemary Williams, pastor at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Delisle, opened the service with a prayer for God to ``give us the will to continue and the strength in order to do what we need to do to rebuild your Gulf Coast.″

Officials plan to mark the graves with head stones that include the men’s symbolic names and physical descriptions.

That idea was patterned after a tribute to three unidentified victims of Hurricane Camille, the devastating storm that hit Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in 1969. Three women were buried under grave markers that identified them as ``Faith,″ ``Hope″ and ``Charity.″

``We lived for 37 years off of Hope, Faith and Charity,″ said Joe Spraggins, Harrison County’s emergency management director. ``All we can do is hope and pray that Strength and Will give us the courage that Hope, Faith and Charity did for those 37 years.″

Katrina claimed 231 victims in Mississippi. In the state’s three coastal counties, another 16 people are still listed as missing.

Four of Mississippi’s dead remain unidentified, including the two buried Tuesday. An unidentified man and woman whose bodies were recovered in neighboring Jackson County were buried side by side in February.

Hargrove hasn’t abandoned hope that the men buried Tuesday will someday be identified. He’s keeping samples of their DNA.

Both men drowned. Their bodies were found in different parts of Harrison County, which includes Gulfport and Biloxi.

One of the victims was a black man age 25 to 35, about 5 foot 9 and 200 pounds. He had a scar near his right hip and a ``Love Jones″ tattoo on his left forearm.

The was a white man age 60 to 70, about 5 foot 9 and 250 pounds. The tip of his left ring finger and part of one of his middle fingers had been amputated.

George Phillips, the state’s public safety commissioner, pointed out Tuesday’s dueling emotions.

``It’s sad in one way that we don’t know who they are,″ he said, ``but in another way they are memorialized forever because of what we do here today.″

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