"They Blew the Levee"

Distrust of Authorities Among Hurricane Katrina Evacuees

Published In: Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, v. 18, no. 2, May 2007, p. 277-282

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2007

by Kristina M. Cordasco, David Eisenman, Deborah C. Glik, Joya F. Golden, Steven M. Asch

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On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall just east of New Orleans, Louisiana. That night and the next day, levees in New Orleans collapsed, resulting in flooding of 80% of the city, with water levels reaching to the rooftops in many areas. Despite strong evacuation warnings, followed by a mandatory evacuation order, over 100,000 greater New Orleans residents failed to evacuate prior to the hurricane's landfall. Distrust of authorities, among numerous other factors, seems likely to have played a role in New Orleans residents' reactions to evacuation warnings and public health authorities' advice. Prior to the hurricane, 72% of New Orleans residents were of minority race or ethnicity and there is a long history of minority groups in the United States distrusting the medical and public health leadership. Furthermore, distrust of authorities among New Orleans' impoverished residents is rooted in local history. In 1927, The Great Mississippi Flood was threatening to destroy New Orleans, including its crucial downtown regional financial institutions. To avert the threat, and in part to stabilize the financial markets, it was decided to perform a controlled break of the New Orleans levees, thereby selectively flooding poor areas and saving financial institutions. This event lives on in the memories and oral history of the residents of the deliberately flooded areas.

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