Woman left in makeshift grave on N.O. sidewalk laid to rest

Monday, November 28, 2005

SANTA ROSA, Texas -- Nearly three months after her makeshift grave on a New Orleans sidewalk became a symbol of the death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, Vera Smith's cremated remains were laid to rest Saturday in the family plot in South Texas.

Smith, 66, was struck by a car as she made her way to a grocery in New Orleans after the hurricane hit. Her common-law husband, C.N. Keene, placed a bedspread over her body. Someone later spray painted the words, "Here lies Vera. God help us" on the sheet, and a man built a short wall of bricks around her body.

Her body remained there for at least five days before eventually being taken to a morgue south of Baton Rouge, La.

Family members wrote Smith notes on the bricks that had been used to hold down the bedspread that covered her body. The bricks were to be placed atop her grave, and the family plans to arrange them into the shape of a cross, said daughter Cynthia Lopez.

About 75 members of her family attended the rosary and memorial service in Harlingen on Friday and the Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Santa Rosa on Saturday. Smith was laid to rest at Santa Nombre Cemetery, between her parents' graves.

Chuck Seaman, director of a nonprofit tissue bank in Victoria, helped the family bring Smith's remains back to Texas.

"She could have been my mom, I guess, or family member -- and without help, I imagine, the body would still be at the morgue," Seaman told the Victoria Advocate for its Monday editions.

"Vera was not a victim of the hurricane, but a victim of crime," he said. "It was beyond belief that they had to set up a temporary grave site on a sidewalk. That more than anything struck me that someone needed to do something. I decided to be the one."

Seaman coordinated the paperwork and arranged for Smith's body to be picked up, cremated and returned to Texas.

Lopez took her mother's remains to the place where she grew up before going to the Mass and funeral.

"She wanted to come home for her birthday on Sept. 1, but she died two days before that," Lopez said. "She's home now. That's how I felt. She's home and at peace, with God."

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