Sunday, October 23, 2005

Great Katrina Migration

Grier (2005) observes that “hurricane Katrina has resulted in the largest displacement of Americans in 150 years - if not the largest ever. The scale is monumental. It's as if the entire Dust Bowl migration occurred in 14 days, or the dislocations caused by the Civil War took place on fast-forward.”

"This is the biggest resettlement in American history. A whole city has been uprooted," says Stephen Kleinberg, a sociology professor at Rice University in Houston. The total number of refugees may surpass 1 million, but a large percentage has been absorbed into their own relative's homes, say experts.

"For New Orleans, the big questions hinge around when it is rebuilt: How many people will it be rebuilt for, and who will they be?" says Alan Berube, a fellow in metropolitan policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

A big city like Houston is unlikely to be changed very much by an influx of Louisianans. Urban areas in the US are already largely populated by people transplanted from elsewhere. But the smaller the community that receives new residents, the larger the corresponding effect.

Baton Rouge, for instance, has always been more staid than its neighbor New Orleans, 80 miles away. It's a "big small town," as one local resident puts it. But it has suddenly become a big, big town, as thousands of evacuees have moved in.

Many residents have embraced those in need, donating clothes, and volunteering at relief centers. But an undercurrent of suspicion may be arising in the wake of hurricane Katrina. One waiter told a visitor about a "hostage situation" in the city. Stories of car-jackings, looting, and riots are rampant.

"It has settled down a lot over the last few days because there has not been the crime in the street people [expected]," says Rene DeLaune, a retired social worker who will be joining a mental health initiative to target those displaced by the storm.

Still, the sheer number of new residents has meant traffic snarls, long lines at post offices, and barren grocery shelves. Mr. DeLaune says some in town are worried that the new population will take existing jobs.

"This has never happened before [in recent history], that a city has expanded so much so quickly ... people resent that the city might change forever," he says.

Grier, Peter “The great Katrina migration” Christian Science Monitor September 12, 2005


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