August 28, 2013

Remembering Katrina: Wide racial divide over government’s response

AP Photo/Eric Gay
A man pushes his bicycle through flood waters near the Superdome in New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005.
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Tomorrow marks another, less heralded event in the history of U.S. race relations.

FT-katrina-01On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in Louisiana, wreaking a path of devastation and killing 1,577 in the state alone, according to NOAA. From the start, the tragedy had a powerful racial component – images of poor, mostly black, New Orleans residents stranded on rooftops and crowded amid fetid conditions in the Louisiana Superdome.

Initial reactions to the government’s response to the crisis were starkly divided along racial lines. In national a poll conducted Sept. 6-7, 2005, more than three times as many blacks (66%) as whites (17%) said the government’s response would have been faster if most of the storm’s victims had been white.

Blacks and whites also drew very different lessons from the disaster: Most blacks (71%) said it showed that racial inequality remained a major problem in the United States; most whites (56%) said that this was not a particularly important lesson of Katrina.

A year after the storm hit, ABC News surveyed residents of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities. Divisions over the government’s response and the implications of the tragedy were still apparent: 61% of blacks in New Orleans said problems with the post-Katrina relief effort “were an indication of racial inequality in this country.” Just 29% New Orleans whites agreed.

Topics: Disasters and Accidents, Federal Government, Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of Carroll Doherty

    is Director of Political Research at the Pew Research Center.

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  1. Paul Harris2 years ago

    Few American realize that they shut down the New Orleans Airport, Amtrak, and Greyhound PRIOR to the evacuation. Many of us could not get out in time. Many don’t know that right after Katrina President Bush was quoted as saying, “No one could have foreseen the breach of the levees.” Six months after Katrina video and transcripts were uncovered that clearly show him being warned prior to Katrina that this was a real possibility. Furthermore they quote Bush as saying, “Everything will be taken care of.” These are not my opinions of being a So. Calif. tourist who was stuck in the Superdome during Katrina and the flooding. These are irrefutable facts.

    As for racial differences think of how many times you heard during Katrina statements such as “those people chose to live there” or “those people chose to live below sea level” or “New Orleans is such a corrupt city that Katrina cleaned it up.” Or that black people taking food were labeled in much of the media as “looters” while white people were labeled as searching for food or survival needs. Nothing like those disparaging type of statements were made after Hurricane Sandy, the World Trade Center (which was previously attacked), wildfires in Colorado and California. Why the difference? On this 50th Anniversary of MLK’s most famous speech we all need to ponder such unconscious thoughts.

    Paul Harris
    Author, “Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina”