Survival and Death in New Orleans: An Empirical Look at the Human Impact of Katrina

Sharkey, P.
Journal of Black Studies (Special Issue on Katrina, Race, Class, and Poverty) 37(4):482-501. 10.1177/0021934706296188

Hurricane Katrina has been interpreted as both a “metaphor” for the racial inequality that characterizes urban America and as a purely “natural” disaster that happened to strike a predominantly Black city. To resolve these conflicting interpretations, the author analyzes data on New Orleans residents who died during Katrina in an effort to provide an empirical look at the groups most directly affected by the hurricane. Contrary to prior reports in the popular press, the author finds that the impact of the storm was felt most acutely by the elderly population in New Orleans and by Blacks, who were much more likely to die than would be expected given their presence in the population. Data on the locations of recovered bodies also show that Katrina took its largest toll in New Orleans’s Black community. These findings confirm the impression that race was deeply implicated in the tragedy of Katrina.