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Disaster disparities and differential recovery in New Orleans

Abstract

The historical disparities in the socio-demographic structure of New Orleans shaped the social vulnerability of local residents and their responses to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. These disparities, derived from race, class, gender, and age differences, have resulted in the uneven impact of the catastrophe on various communities in New Orleans, and importantly, their ability to recover. This article examines how the pre-existing social vulnerabilities within New Orleans interacted with the level of flood exposure to produce inequities in the socio-spatial patterns of recovery. Utilizing a combination of statistical and spatial approaches, we found a distinct geographic pattern to the recovery suggesting that the social burdens and impacts from Hurricane Katrina are uneven—the less flooded and less vulnerable areas are recovering faster than tracts with more vulnerable populations and higher levels of flooding. However, there is a more nuanced story, which suggests that it is neighborhoods in the mid-range of social vulnerability where recovery is lagging. While private resources and government programs help groups in the high and low categories of social vulnerability, the middle group shows the slowest rates of recovery. Further, it appears that the congressionally funded State of Louisiana Road Home Program (designed to provide compensation to Louisiana’s homeowners who suffered impacts by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita for the damage to their home) is not having a significant effect in stimulating recovery within the city.

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Notes

  1. Other applications of the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) can be found online: http://webra.cas.sc.edu/hvri/products/soviapplications.aspx.

  2. Cutter et al. (2003) outlined the original 42 variables. The following variables were not available for this analysis: birth rate, percentage voting in the 2000 elections, county debt/revenue, population change, and measures of the built environment: density of residential property, new building permits per square mile, density of manufacturing, density of commercial development, earnings in all sectors, percentage of land in farms, percentage urban, hospitals per capita, and rural farm population.

  3. The neighborhood delineations were developed by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (http://www.gnocdc.org/def/neighborhood.html). The neighborhood boundaries were used for visualization purposes only; all analyses were performed on the Census tract level.

  4. The Housing Authority of New Orleans was in the process of destroying, renovating, and relocating some of the housing projects pre-Katrina; however, this is not reflected in the SoVI-NO because it is based on data collected from the 2000 Census.

  5. One problem to note, since the imagery measures standing water, areas such as Lake Catherine, which had significant damage due to storm surge, but no standing water, are not represented the in final dataset.

  6. The July 2007 population estimates for Orleans Parish reflect Census Bureau revisions based on successful challenges by the parish government. The July 2007 population estimate was revised upward from 239,124 to 288,133. The July 2005 and July 2006 population estimates for Orleans Parish also will be revised upward, although those revisions have not been released by the Census Bureau at this time.

  7. Data driven by Valassis Lists. From a compilation by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, http://www.gnocdc.org, December 2008.

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Acknowledgments

A preliminary version of this article was presented at the Disaster and Migration Conference at Tulane University, April 12–14, 2007. We would like to thank the participants at the workshop for their comments on the research. We also would like to thank Melanie Gall for her critical review of our analysis. Any errors, however, remain ours.

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Correspondence to Susan L. Cutter.

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Finch, C., Emrich, C.T. & Cutter, S.L. Disaster disparities and differential recovery in New Orleans. Popul Environ 31, 179–202 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-009-0099-8

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Keywords

  • Disaster recovery
  • Social vulnerability
  • New Orleans
  • Governmental support