Poverty, inequality and racism have been hotly debated topics in the US for months. But not only since the demonstrations against white police violence in black residential areas has the question of why young black men populate prisons rather than universities has been high on the agenda. The question of how black and white can and want to live together was raised after Hurricane “Katrina” swept over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the south of the USA on August 29, 2005. Between 1100 and 1800 people died. There is still no agreement about the number of deaths.
At first, “Katrina” was less of a social disaster than a natural disaster. The huge cyclone is from Reinsurer Munich Re listed as the most expensive storm. According to Munich Re calculations, “Katrina” left behind 125 billion dollars in economic damage, while the insured damage was 62 billion dollars. The US was also hit by the second costliest hurricane. In 2011, “Sandy” even moved as far as New York and New Jersey and caused losses of 68.5 billion dollars there, of which only 29.5 billion were insured.
A disaster with six days’ notice
As of August 23, 2005, authorities and residents along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico knew that a hurricane was approaching. “Katrina” formed near the Bahamas and first moved to Florida. But the real catastrophe began when “Katrina” had long since weakened to a tropical storm and moved inland from New Orleans. The heavy rains and tidal wave from the Gulf that were triggered were more than the ramshackle flood protection walls of New Orleans, which is half below sea level, could handle. 80 percent of the city was under water. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their apartments or houses. The evacuation of the city was chaotic, no one was prepared for the storm refugees, and anarchy was spreading in New Orleans. The national Civil Protection Agency Fema failed as well as regional or local institutions. Almost half of the then 440,000 inhabitants had to leave the city, around 100,000 have not returned to this day, although almost 400,000 people are now living in the city again.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama visited the more or less rebuilt New Orleans. He found a different city than it was before the disaster: It is younger, better educated, Hispanic, whiter – and there is more inequality. It is true that blacks are still in the majority. According to the New Orleans data center, 59 percent of black people currently live in the city, compared to 64 percent before “Katrina”. But the big difference to then is: The black middle class is dying out. It is true that even before “Katrina” it was mainly blacks who were poor. But they were well represented in middle-class professions, from doctors to engineers. Today the black middle class has aged and the young are missing.
The blacks feel marginalized
Has for the anniversary the University of Louisiana submitted a survey of more than 2,000 New Orleans residents for reconstruction. Four out of five of the whites surveyed find this successful and consider it to be complete. On the other hand, three out of five blacks say that is not the case. 41 percent of whites praised the quality of life after the storm as better. A third of blacks are not convinced of this. The poor and the blacks were hit harder by the flood after “Katrina” than those who could have afforded houses in higher elevations. In the first two years of the reconstruction, 20,000 social tenants were simply “locked out”, both wrote Social researchers Christian Jakob and Friedrich Schorb from the University of Bremen in a 2008 study. The social buildings were cordoned off and later demolished. Inmates from the prisons did not return to the city but moved away completely. However, this has not reduced the crime rate, as Mayor Mitch Landrieu complains.
The rents have risen dramatically
It was particularly difficult for the poor to return to their homeland. To Information from the data center 37 percent of the city’s residents pay more than half of their gross income for rent or home loans. Before the storm it was 24 percent. 39 percent of children are considered poor, and across the United States the proportion is 22 percent.
Due to the strong influx of young business founders and the concentration on tourism in New Orleans, rents have risen significantly. The blacks feel increasingly marginalized. In the University of Louisiana poll, 55 percent of whites said schools were better than they were before the disaster. Only 34 percent of blacks see it the same way. Immediately afterwards, all 4,600 teachers, many of them black, were dismissed and only partially reinstated. New Orleans is still debating this to this day.
Shelters, walls and a plan
The US has spent around ten billion dollars since “Katrina” to better protect New Orleans from flood disasters. 2.9 kilometers of flood walls at a height of up to eight meters have been built. In contrast to the time before “Katrina”, there are now clear responsibilities as to who has to maintain the walls. When Hurricane “Gustav” hurtled towards New Orleans in 2008, the flood walls passed their first practical test. The new evacuation plan was also tested at that time. The US Red Cross has now created 61,000 emergency shelters. There is a website where parents can search for their lost children and vice versa. That didn’t exist ten years ago.
The debate, whether climate change increases the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, is not completed. Higher sea levels and surface temperatures have an impact on cyclones – even if it cannot be predicted exactly which one.