Six Years After Hurricane Katrina, Most Vulnerable Populations Still Need Help

Anniversaries come and go, but at-risk communities in New Orleans continue to be affected.

Posted: 08/29/2011 10:34 AM EDT
Filed Under Hurricane Katrina

Destroyed buildings and overgrown weeds are seen from Flood St. looking towards Caffin St. in New Orleans Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. The Lower 9th Ward, the New Orleans neighborhood hit the hardest by Hurricane Katrina, is a sad place where the grasses grow taller than people and street after street is scarred by empty decaying houses, the lives that once played out inside their walls hardly imaginable now.  (Photo: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Over the weekend Hurricane Irene ripped through 1,100 miles of U.S. coastline. Over 2.4 million people were evacuated and at least 24 deaths were attributed to the storm that stretched from North Carolina to Vermont.

 

The widespread catastrophe that caused blackouts in Virginia and Massachusetts may have gone unrealized in cities like New York where only strong winds and infrequent rainfalls were felt, but six years ago today, a storm named Katrina left a mark on America that generations will never forget.

 

On the morning of Aug.  29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made a visit to Southeast Louisiana. Named one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, Katrina killed over 1,800 people and caused damage exceeding $80 billion.  

 

According to the Congressional Research Service, an estimated 310,000 African-Americans were displaced by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Blacks accounted for 44 percent of storm victims, and in Orleans Parish, an estimated 272,000 Black people were displaced by flooding or damage accounting for 73 percent of the population affected by the storm in the parish.

 

Six years later however, 42 percent of African-Americans versus just 16 percent of whites say they stay have not recovered from the storm, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

 

To residents, six years may seem like an eternity to get their lives back to normal, but some are saying that time is to be expected.

 

 “I think it takes time to recover from a natural disaster like this,” Ray Nagin, New Orleans ex-major and leader during Hurricane Katrina tells BET.com. “History teaches us that it takes, on average, 10 to 15 years. Look at New York, it’s nine-to-ten years after the incident of 9-11 and we’re still doing work there so it just takes some time. “

 

But how much time, and how exactly has New Orleans changed?

 

Today the city of New Orleans has a population of about 343,849  approximately 110,000 less than when Katrina hit and 65,423 fewer African-American women. Organizations are saying that the city has more males, is whiter and more prosperous.

 

Over 47,000 homes are still vacant and of the 3,000 public housing units occupied before Katrina, only 10 percent, or 238 families, have returned to the units. All were African-American.  

 

"Federal assistance is a must if the region is to indeed be made 'whole' as promised by both this and the previous administrations," states Stephen Bradberry, an advisor for the Gulf Coast Fund.

 

Bradberry says that in areas along the Gulf Coast, poor and low-income residents, African-Americans, immigrants and other at-risk communities continue to be affected six years later, especially with new disasters such as Hurricane Gustav and the BP oil spill disaster.

 

Additionally, today, New Orleans has poverty numbers that exceed the rest of the United States. Since Hurricane Katrina, 70 percent more people are homeless since Hurricane Katrina, only 59 percent of Louisiana’s public school students graduate from high school with their class and 34 percent of children in the city live in poverty in comparison to the national average of 20 percent.

 

"We must continue to demand governmental accountability on all levels — local, state, regional and national — and restore full civic participation in the region," states Jaribu Hill, executive director of the Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights.

 

Though Nagin states that the city is positioned for full recovery with “low unemployment and all economic indicators pointing up,” it may be time to re-examine to whom exactly are city efforts benefiting.

 

Six years may not be enough time to re-build an entire city, but it is enough time to identify the calls of the poor and at-risk populations that need help the most, six years after the storm.

 

 

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