Hurricane Katrina Context

General Context

Originally, the New Orlean’s geographic area was desirable because of the abundant subsistence resources. As the population in New Orleans grew, people began to settle closer and closer to the water and on lower ground; therefore, increasing the risk of damage due to storms. Unfortunately, there were also large problems with the natural design of the area:

                                  1. The land is sinking
                                  2. Rising sea levels 
                                  3. More intense hurricanes
                                  4. Destruction of the wetlands

All of these factors have a huge impact on the extent of the destruction that a storm can cause in New Orleans. The deadly combination of the land sinking and rising sea levels means that the city of New Orleans is much more vulnerable to storms as well as naturally submerging. Flooding is something that will be much more likely due to this problems with the area. More intense storms, on top of the fact that the sea levels are rising, means that the city is going to have more damage and destruction due to the flooding. Lastly, the destruction of the wetlands exposes New Orleans to the storms and is one of the major reasons why Hurricane Katrina was so detrimental. The wetlands used to protect the city and act as a buffer; however, the destruction has rendered them useless.

Over 288 years, New Orleans has had 27 major river or hurricane induced disasters. After each event the city was both rebuilt and expanded upon. The major reason why New Orleans is affected so greatly is due to the levee design. The design is generally based on the previous storm, but that is a reactive approach. Additionally, the levees are effective in preventing floods but not in protecting New Orleans from hurricanes.


“Rather than resettle elsewhere to avoid these problems, people have continually attached meaning to life in this unique location and have invested in physical engineering solutions to protect it” (Peterson et al. 2006; 2).

Hurricane Katrina

Generally, hurricanes are measured in two separate phases:
 Phase 1: scale of evacuation preceding the hurricane
Phase 2: scale of the long-term migration of the people and the timing of when they can return

During the hurricane, the city’s pumping system failed to keep up with the downpour. This led to floodwalls, which allowed water to surge in and fill the “bowl.” 385,000/480,000 New Orleans residents evacuated the area when the hurricane hit. The evacuation was considered one of the greatest displacements in the history of the United States. As a result, there was an estimated 1,570 people dead and $40-50 billion in monetary losses.


Social Tension

With each reconstruction of New Orleans, there was more class segregation in terms of where people were living. People with high social economic class lived further from the damage where people of lower social economic class remained. The media coverage suggests that poor African-Americans were the main victims of the hurricane because of poor evacuation and shelter. The socioeconomic effects following Hurricane Katrina were large. Many New Orlean’s residents lost their jobs, businesses suffered, and unemployment rates increased.

New Orleans days after Hurricane Katrina

“There were clearer racial and class differences in the ability to cope with the flood, to return, and to rebuild” (Kates et al. 2006; 14).

Political Tension

One reason why the protection of New Orleans was so lengthy was due to conflicts between local and federal government authorities. This was the reason why the levees were not improved to be more effective. Unfortunately, the conflicts led to one of the greatest natural catastrophes. Another underlying factor is the that people have such attached meaning to the culture and lifestyle that exists in New Orleans. This is the sole reason New Orleans continuously rebuilds after each natural disaster.