People living in the path of Hurricane Katrina’s worst devastation were twice as likely as most Americans to be poor and without a car – factors that may help explain why so many failed to evacuate as the storm approached.
An analysis of Census data shows that the residents in the three dozen hardest-hit neighborhoods in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama also were disproportionately minority and had incomes $10,000 below the national average.
“Let them know we’re not bums. We have houses. Our houses were destroyed. We have jobs. It’s not our fault that we didn’t have cars to leave,” Shatonia Thomas, 27, said as she walked near New Orleans’ convention center five days after the storm, still trapped in the destruction with her children, ages 6 and 9.
Money and transportation – two keys to surviving a natural disaster – were inaccessible for many who got left behind in the Gulf region’s worst squalor.
“It’s a different equation for poor people,” said Dan Carter, a University of South Carolina historian. “There’s a certain ease of transportation and funds the middle class in this country takes for granted.”
The analysis showed:
• Median household income in the most devastated neighborhood was $32,000, or $10,000 less than the national average.
• Two in 10 households in the disaster area had no car, compared with 1 in 10 in nationwide.
• Nearly 25 percent of those living in the hardest-hit areas were below the poverty line, about double the national average. About 4.5 percent in the disaster area received public assistance; nationwide, the number was about 3.5 percent.
•About 60 percent of the 700,000 people in the three dozen neighborhoods were minority. Nationwide, about 1 in 3 Americans is a racial minority.
• One in 200 American households doesn’t have adequate plumbing compared to one in 100 households in the most affected areas.
• Nationwide, about 7 percent of households with children are headed by a single mother. In the three dozen neighborhoods, 12 percent were single-mother households.