More Shuttle Debris, More Human Remains Found in Far East Texas - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

2/02/03 - Nacogdoches County

More Shuttle Debris, More Human Remains Found in Far East Texas

The search area has expanded to more than 500 square miles of East Texas including Palestine, Nacogdoches and Sabine Counties.

Texas Sheriffs in those areas admit, they are strapped and need more manpower to find, examine and protect what remains of Space Shuttle Columbia.

"Calls are coming in faster than we can dispatch people to answer them," says Nacogdoches Sheriff Thomas Kerss.

That's the situation in the East Texas area dubbed the "debris belt". Hundreds of searchers, both authorities and volunteers, set out early Sunday morning, determined to do their part in piecing together the Columbia Disaster. Rugged East Texas terrain and lonely land are making that difficult.

"We are 150-200 calls behind right now," says Sheriff Kerss.

Though the grim debris search continues to span East Texas, the majority, pieces large and small, seems to have fallen over Nacogdoches County. Already more than 1200 reminders of the shuttle have been found.

In San Augustine and Sabine Counties, the most heartbreaking discoveries, another astronaut helmet, and even more human remains of the seven Columbia astronauts who lost their lives.

"(The remains) they are removed by the FBI immediately," says Emergency Coordinator in Sabine County, Billy Ted Smith. But before they were removed, mourners took time to pray. Clearly the Columbia recovery is taking it's toll on command centers.

"It's emotional for all of us as individuals who are invested in the space program and fellow mankind," says Smith. But as Monday approaches, there's no word when guards will be relieved of protecting the integrity of the shuttle evidence.

"We were hoping that FEMA would come through with their nine o'clock deadline to give us information on how we are going to handle the debris," says Judge Sue Kennedy, Nacogdoches County. "That has not happened yet. We have been told that FEMA is trying to coordinate with EPA."

Until then, East Texas authorities will keep assisting the federal agencies in this American tragedy. They only hope no more reports come their way of East Texans stealing shuttle remnants, a federal offense.

"My sentiment on that is they're stupid to do something like that," says Smith.

There was a setback in the shuttle search today. The search over Toledo Bend Reservoir in Sabine County with underwater cameras turned up nothing. Saturday, fisherman saw a large piece of debris fall in the water.

The debris located will eventually be taken to Barksdale Air force Base in Shreveport. The human remains will be taken at a later date to Dover Air force Base in Delaware.

Gillian Sheridan and Dana Dixon Reporting.

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