Dignity at last for Vera Smith, the iconic victim of Hurricane Katrina

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The Independent US

For five full days the body of Vera Smith lay by the roadside in New Orleans - ignored by the authorities in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Someone covered her body with a tarpaulin and eventually her friends and neighbours built a makeshift grave and wrote: "Here Lies Vera. God Help Us." Almost three months later, she is finally to receive something more dignified.

Next week, Ms Smith's ashes are to be buried following a Thanksgiving Day family get-together that she would normally have attended. Her ashes will be scattered over the gravesite where her parents lie in Santa Rosa, Texas.

The ceremony has been organised by Ms Smith's daughter, Cynthia Lopez, who was also able to provide some of the missing details about her mother, whose fate sparked outrage across the nation and came to symbolise some of the divisions in American society.

"I feel that my country abandoned her. Our government did not do enough for our people," Ms Lopez said, speaking from her home in San Antonio, Texas. "Five days her body was there. I have had people tell me that they went up to the police and were [asking them to help]. Finally we can do this."

Ms Smith, 65, was killed by a hit-and-run driver the day after Hurricane Katrina struck at the end of August, when she had gone out to the local stores. At the time, her partner Max Keene said: "A guy came round to say she was lying by the side of the road with a piece of cardboard over her. It was me that went and put the tarp over her.

"I spoke to the police and asked them to take her away but they just told me to get the hell out of there."

Ms Smith, who was born in Linares, Mexico, in 1939, was known to her friends and family as an ebullient, energetic woman who loved books and clothes and shoes and was a regular at the local Catholic church.

"Who can forget her boisterous laughter, flamboyant dress attire, abundance of shoes, purses, jewellery and her numerous styles and colours of wigs?" said her daughter. "[She] had a great love for her children, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and those who are less fortunate."

Ms Lopez said Mr Keene had been struggling since the death of his partner and that he was not planning to attend the ceremony. He had received some comfort by the return of the couple's dog. Clyde was thought to have been lost in the storm but he was in fact being cared for by an animal sanctuary in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, some New Orleans residents are trying to organise a permanent memorial to Ms Smith. Dr Lance Hill, a professor of history at the city's Tulane University, worked as a volunteer during the storm and came to learn about Ms Smith's makeshift grave. He said he had made inquiries about a memorial at the site.

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