Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Synopsis Of Katrina

The wind damage and flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina focused on New Orleans, and especially on the people who had been unable to escape the city before it flooded. Images of poor and predominantly black people crowded into the Super-dome and Convention Center supported the impression that Katrina had disproportionately affected poor, black neighborhoods.

An survey of FEMA storm damage data shows that the storm’s impact was disproportionately borne by the region’s African American community, by people who rented their homes, and by the poor and unemployed.

Left: Stranded victims of Hurricane Katrina wait outside the Superdome to be evacuated

1. More than a third of the region’s 1.7 million residents lived in areas that suffered flooding or moderate to catastrophic storm damage, according to FEMA. The majority of people living in damaged areas were in the City of New Orleans (over 350,000), with additional concentrations in suburban Jefferson Parish (175,000) and St. Bernard Parish (53,000) and along the Mississippi Coast (54,000).

2. In the region as a whole, the disparities in storm damage are shown in the following comparisons (arranged in order of the degree of disparity):

• By race. Damaged areas were 45.8% black, compared to 26.4% in undamaged areas.

• By housing tenure. 45.7% of homes in damaged areas were occupied by renters, compared to 30.9% in undamaged communities.

• By poverty and employment status. 20.9% of households had incomes below the poverty line in damaged areas, compared to 15.3% in undamaged areas. 7.6% of persons in the labor force were unemployed in damaged areas (before the storm), compared to 6.0% in undamaged areas.

3. These comparisons are heavily influenced by the experience of the City of New Orleans. Outside the city, there were actually smaller shares of African American, poor, and unemployed residents in the damaged areas.

Left: The aftermath of the storm that left many of the poor stranded.

4. Closer inspection of neighborhoods within New Orleans shows that some affluent white neighborhoods were hard hit, while some poor minority neighborhoods were spared. Yet if the post-Katrina city were limited to the population previously living in areas that were undamaged by the storm – that is, if nobody were able to return to damaged neighborhoods – New Orleans is at risk of losing more than 80% of its black population. This means that policy choices affecting who can return, to which neighborhoods, and with what forms of public and private assistance, will greatly affect the future character of the city.


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