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What’s in a Name: Social Vulnerabilities and the Refugee Controversy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina


Abundant literature on disasters has shown that a natural hazard does not always result in a disaster. It only does so when the hazard hits in a context of social vulnerability (Oliver-Smith and Hoffman, 2002). The case of hurricane Katrina provides an example particularly showing this interaction between natural hazards and social vulnerabilities.


  • Social Vulnerability
  • Baton Rouge
  • Social Unrest
  • Evacuation Order
  • Kaiser Family Foundation

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  1. 1.

    Funding for this fieldwork was provided by the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS).

  2. 2.

    Louisiana State University.

  3. 3.

    The I-10 is the principal exit route out of New Orleans and connects the city to Baton Rouge, and further to Texas.

  4. 4.

    National Conference on Disaster Planning for the Carless Society, held at the University of New Orleans on 7–8 February 2007.

  5. 5.

    A suburb of New Orleans, where the international airport is located.

  6. 6.

    Multiple answers were allowed.

  7. 7.

    Interview with the author, Baton Rouge, March 2007.

  8. 8.

    Interview with the author, New Orleans, February 2007.

  9. 9.


  10. 10.

    Interestingly, after the 1999 floods in Venezuela, President Chavez suggested to call the victims dignificados, instead of damnificados.


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This field work was made possible thanks to a travel grant of the National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS) in Belgium. Furthermore, I would like to acknowledge the support of Thomas Langston (Political Science Department, Tulane University), John Kiefer, and Shirley Laska (Political Science Department and CHART, University of New Orleans), as well as Marc Levitan and Ezra Boyd (Hurricane Center, Louisiana State University) for the help and facilities provided during my stay.

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Correspondence to François Gemenne .

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Gemenne, F. (2010). What’s in a Name: Social Vulnerabilities and the Refugee Controversy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina. In: Afifi, T., Jäger, J. (eds) Environment, Forced Migration and Social Vulnerability. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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