Chapter 3: In the wake of the storm: disasters and environmental justice
In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast, causing widespread devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi. The predominantly African-American city of New Orleans was especially hard hit, and in ensuing days extraordinary and deeply troubling footage of the storm’s victims and survivors provoked an overdue national conversation about the racial and economic correlates of disaster vulnerability. This chapter, an earlier version of which was published in the journal Race, Poverty and the Environment, provides a synopsis of the six authors’ longer report, In the Wake of the Storm: Environment, Disaster, and Race After Katrina, written in the wake of the storm and published in 2006 by the Russell Sage Foundation. The southern United States has a long history of coping with weather related disasters. It also has a legacy of institutionalized racism against African-Americans. Hurricane Katrina hit the region in a particularly vulnerable place: the storm pushed right up against an industrial corridor running from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, popularly known as ‘Cancer Alley,’ that is host to numerous petrochemical complexes as well as to poor African-American communities that have long complained of stark environmental disparities. The hurricane’s most dramatic effects were felt in New Orleans itself, a city where black reliance on public transit was four times higher than that of whites, and where the public plans for evacuation in the event of a crisis were tragically deficient.
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