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Hurricane Katrina

Introduction:external image hurricane_katrina.jpg

The worst natural disater in the United States history was that of three years ago, Hurricane Katrina. In the span of five violent hours the Hurricane which reached up to a category five storm hit the gulf coast and much of New Orleans on August the 29, of 2005. From Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama the effects of this disaster was enormous. By August 31st,of 2005 just forty eight hours after the storm hit most of New Orleans was flooded, about eighty percent was flooded. Hurricanes are mostly caused by in an area of low air pressure that forms over oceans typically in tropical regions(world book encyclopedia, pg 187). Here in the United States most hurricanes occur in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, which we witnessed that of Katrina. A hurricane usually has two main parts. Its winds that swirl around the center of the storm is more commonly known as the eye. This is the basic center of the storm which is a clam area. The second part is the wall clouds which surround the eye(world book encyclopedia, pg 187). Hurricane Katrina had many major implications for example population, economy and politics of the entire region and the country. The major destruction of the city of New Orleans was the failure of the levees that broke open. Most of the levees collapsed and broke completely wide open letting enormous amounts of sea water pouring into the region. The extensive flooding stranded many residents, who remained long after hurricane Katrina has passed. Stranded survivors dotted the tops of their houses citywide hoping to be rescued. There were many residents some who were trapped inside their attics, unable to escape. Around eleven o'clock p.m. on August 29, mayor Nagin described the loss of life as significant with reports of bodies floating on the water throughout the city. There was no clean water or electricity in the city, and soon the National Guard began setting up temporary morgues in certain locations. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States. About one month after that, Hurricane Rita hit. These were the two most intense hurricanes ever recorded in the nation's history.Together they had a massive physical impact on the land, by affecting 90,000 square miles, which is the size of Great Britain. Over 80 percent of New Orleans flooded. It affected more than 1.5 million people and over 800,000 citzens were forced to move from their homes, which is the largest displacement of people since the Great Dust Bowl migrations of the 1930's.

The race factor:

Americans like to believe that we are all in the same boat when disaster strikes, unfortunately this didn't occur with Katrina. Questions of race and class came into focus as news coverage of the disaster showed primarily black residents stranded in New Orleans. It also raised questions about the governments slow response to the crisis. Weeks after the hurricane there was widespread agreement among black survivors that the governments response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the storms victims had been white. At that time most whites felt that the race of the victims did not make a difference in the governments responses. The true outcome about the race factor of Katrina points out the persisting problems of racial inequality.Critcs said that since the majority of Katrina's victims were poor and black, they were considered "expendale'' and thus did not warrant the same kind of response that would have been given if the storm hit a rich white city. In other words, the combination of poverty in a specific geographic area as well as factors of race determine the lackluster response. While there was a great deal of dispute in terms of how different racial and class groups perceived the response, it is safe to say there was a delayed and weak reaction no matter what the reason might have been. It is almost impossible to think about the issues of race and class in the wake of Hurricane Katrina without shifting focus to some of the larger sociological forces at work. For instance, class mobility, which is the ability to rise in class status, is more of an issue than it may seem. For these poor minority families, the lack of funding and other assistance to help rebuild will significantly drain what little savings many of these poor families might have. Two million Louisiana residents, about 50 percent of the state’s population lived in coastal parishes according to 2000 census. Because around thirty-eight thousand households did not own vehicles in New Orleans, and considering these people also had no resources once they left the city, their local and federal government should have had a much more effective evacuation plan that included the safety and welfare of the lower class citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes. After all, the lower class people are still human and deserve the same attention as any other person. Being a lower class citizen financially should not mean your life has less worth then someone of higher class. It is hard to believe that the government would have neglected a higher class city the way they did New Orleans. As a matter of fact, the lower class communities in New Orleans were located closer to the levees. It is common sense of course that the property value would be less around the levees, but if upper class citizens had owned that property the levees would be reinforced and improved upon to much higher standards. After Hurricane Katrina a number of societial issues that already existed reemerged and were given closer scrutiny. However, we are not at fault for the poor and black being left behind it is more on the shoulders of the local, state, or federal government that is at fault. Furthermore, there are 37 million people in poverty in our nation. In 2004 1.1 million of whom fell below the poverty line. It is sad that some of the poorest folks in America are often forgotten about and rendered invisible. Homeland security failed miserably in mobilizing resources to rescue Katrina survivors without food, water or shelter. Hundreds of people waited for help especially the elderly died while waiting for help. Unfortunately, the government and society has been ignoring the poor way before one of the worst natural disasters in history. In the end, it seems that race is a contentious issue when money is involved, especially if that money is coming from the government. Since class stratification already existed to a large degree before the disaster, it may be exacerbated afterwards as many families received differing amounts.
Health care was another area that was already a bad situation before Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans had one of the nation’s highest un-insurance rates with most relying on the Charity Hospital system for care. Hospital buildings received extensive damage and had to close. The health care infrastructure was also severely damaged and many services declined dramatically and even a year later were struggling and providing minimal services.

Aftermath of Katrina:external image KatrinaSuperdome.jpg
Hundreds of thousands were left behind to ravage the destruction, disease and even death. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina civil unrest was rapid. There was looting, violence, and other criminal activities which became serious problems. By August 30th, the looting had spread throughout the city, often in broad daylight and right in front of police officers. The looters included gangs of armed gunmen, and gunfire was heard in parts of the city.
Not only were there problems with looting, but the definition of looting based on the race of the person caught in the act. According to an article by Aaron Kinney associated with the University of San Francisco, the media tends to give looting a different name if a photographer catches a white person doing it. Arguments have occurred over this issue because of some pictures taken for the Associated Press. One picture was of a young black man car
rying groceries through the water and the caption read that he had looted. Another picture was taken of two white people doing the same thing, but they were just carrying items. Bloggers have stated that more background information should be given to know the exact situation that was going on in the photograph before judgment is passed. This shows that not only are there problems with the actual act of looting, but also how it is portrayed in the media. Racial issues are everywhere, and it is important to filter what is written to make sure that racial judgments are not passed about people in a very desperate and traumatic situation.
Along with all the violence, armed robbery was occurring, but it was mainly residents who were gathering up valuable goods to survive. Most of the reports of the crimes were allegedly occurred in the city's Super dome, the home of the football team of New Orleans. This disaster and its aftermath have shown that race and class are inseparable issues and that more attention must be given to this so that future problems do not occur. As if the two issues were not enough to contend with by themselves, the intersection of race and class created the most tension after the hurricane hit. Now the government was dealing with mass displacement along with rampant poverty that ran across race lines. After Hurricane Katrina it is no longer possible to view race and class as separate issues, especially when examining these in the context of an entire city.

Conclusion:external image hurricane_katrina_ny220_o_1__rr2k.jpg

Hurricane Katrina was a wake up call for all Americans. This event dealt with every type of issue from race, class, gender, and the governments role. But there is a silver lining to all of this. This natural disaster put more attention to poverty, more focus on our strong federal government, and also a focus on leadership which we as Americans most desperately need right now. We should acknowledge that Hurricane Katrina was more than an engineering or emergency response failure. Hopefully we will change the way we relate to the black and poor among us.

Brinkley, Douglas. The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.







By: Tim Hendershott
GSC 350, Fall 2008
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