Hurricane Katrina's Great American Resettlement


Published Aug 28, 2015 7:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hurricane Katrina changed millions of lives when it struck the U.S. Gulf of Mexico on August 29, 2005. People lost families, homes and livelihoods as the storm killed more than 1,800 people and displaced over 400,000 New Orleans residents.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took four days to respond, local authorities and citizens lead the initial efforts. The U.S. Coast Guard saved about 34,000 people in New Orleans in the days following Katrina and citizens commandeered boats and provided food and shelter to their neighbors. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Superdome accommodated more than 15,000 displaced people. 

But the devastation in Louisiana had limited areas for survivors in need of food and water. In the weeks after Katrina, Texas was one of the main destination for those fleeing the destruction and more than 245,000 evacuees were transported by buses and helicopters to the state. The Red Cross set up its largest shelter ever at the Houston Astrodome, which housed more than 17,500 people.

The South Carolina Midlands, which is near Columbia, served as an emergency relief center for relocation efforts as well. About 15,000 people made their way to Columbia. South Carolina Representative James Clyburn and Columbia Mayor Bob Cole coordinated the response can called on their citizens and businesses to provide aid and comfort for the evacuees, many of who were housed in hotels and armories.

Rhode Island, Ohio and California also accepted survivors.

Mass Exodus

Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters ever recorded, and it caused one of the largest resettlements in American history. New Orleans had a population of about 455,000 prior to Katrina. According to government reports, the population fell to 223,000 by June 2006. Today it is estimate there now about 436,000 people living in the city of New Orleans, and 348,000 of these say they lived in New Orleans during Katrina and returned. 

Many of the evacuees decided to rebuild their lives in New Orleans, but several others didn’t because the infrastructure to support employment and housing was lost in the aftermath of the storm. According the a 2008 University of Michigan report, over 58 percent of people over 30 returned. And for those under 30 years old less than 40 percent returned.