NEW ORLEANS – Nearly seven months after Hurricane Katrina, the streets of New Orleans are still littered with thousands of abandoned cars – many of them flooded-out, some stolen, some left by residents who have not returned since the Aug. 29 storm, reported the Associated Press.

Many of the vehicles have been plundered of everything of value, including the tires. Many are encrusted with the dried gray muck left over after the floodwater receded. Some have become havens for insects and rats.

Across Louisiana, authorities are trying to identify and find the owners – who may be in other states – and find places to store the towed vehicles.

Before Katrina, “the largest vehicle removal ever was for 9-11, and that was only 2,800 cars. I'd say we have already identified and removed over 200,000 cars statewide,” said Lt. Allen Carpenter of the Louisiana State Police fraud unit, according to the Associated Press.

Statewide, an estimated 350,000 vehicles were flooded by Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which hit Louisiana Sept. 24. Carpenter said perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 have yet to be removed. In New Orleans itself, the figure is estimated at 20,000 to 25,000.

The state expects to have a contractor in place by April 1 to start hauling the vehicles away. The cars will be stored while the state attempts to contact the owners.

“Our goal is to have them all gone by June 1,” Carpenter said in the Associated Press report. He said full FEMA funding for the removal effort ends on that date, which also happens to be the first day of hurricane season. “We want to get them out of the way before the next storm comes.”