Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

December 19, 2005

Katrina killed the rich, too

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:41 am

A few days ago I noted that contrary to national media reports and the claims of Democratic politicians (sorry for being redundant there!), those killed in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina were in fact disproportionately white, not disproportionately black. (Whites make up 28 percent of the city’s population but 36.6% of the Katrina fatalities; blacks are up 67.25 percent of the population and 59.1 percent of the fatalities.)

Well, another canard is that Katrina killed mainly the poor — those who didn’t have cars and couldn’t afford to buy a ticket out of the city. As Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said,

“The ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.”

(Keith Boykin has a list of similar comments here.)

Well, we’ve already dealt with the “skin color” part. Now onto the “economics” part: The Los Angeles Times — not exactly an organization known for its desire to point out the flaws in Democrats — reports that:

Katrina Killed Across Class Lines

The well-to-do died along with the poor, an analysis of data shows. The findings counter common beliefs that disadvantaged blacks bore the brunt.

By Nicholas Riccardi, Doug Smith and David Zucchino

The bodies of New Orleans residents killed by Hurricane Katrina were almost as likely to be recovered from middle-class neighborhoods as from the city’s poorer districts, such as the Lower 9th Ward, according to a Times analysis of data released by the state of Louisiana.

The analysis contradicts what swiftly became conventional wisdom in the days after the storm hit — that it was the city’s poorest African American residents who bore the brunt of the hurricane. Slightly more than half of the bodies were found in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, with the remainder scattered throughout middle-class and even some richer districts.

“The fascinating thing is that it’s so spread out,” said Joachim Singelmann, director of the Louisiana Population Data Center at Louisiana State University. “It’s not just the Lower 9th Ward or New Orleans East, which everybody has heard about. It’s across the board, including some well-to-do neighborhoods.”

Because New Orleans was one of the nation’s poorest cities, where more than one in four residents lives below the poverty level, many of the victims were still found in neighborhoods that were impoverished by national standards. But by the standards of New Orleans, those neighborhoods were economically stable, and deaths citywide were distributed with only a slight bias for economic status.

Of the 828 bodies found in New Orleans after the storm, 300 were either recovered from medical facilities or shelters that offer no data on the victim’s socioeconomic status, or from locations that the state cannot fully identify. Of the 528 bodies recovered from identifiable addresses in city neighborhoods, 230 came from areas that had household incomes above the citywide median of $27,133. The poorer areas accounted for 298 bodies.

The state official in charge of identifying Katrina’s victims, Dr. Louis Cataldie, said he was not surprised by the findings. “We went into $1-million and $2-million homes trying to retrieve people,” he said.

Many of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods sit on Lake Pontchartrain in the lowest-lying sector of town, [Richard] Campanella[, a Tulane University geographer] said. For example, Lakeview, a predominately white neighborhood that contains mansions valued at more than $1 million in addition to crowded streets studded with modest bungalows, fronts the lake and is adjacent to the 17th Street Canal. When the levee collapsed, the neighborhood was destroyed. The only neighborhood with comparable destruction, the Lower 9th Ward, sits on higher ground but was unluckily flanked by two broken levees.

(Anybody else remember reading that only the poor lived below sea level? )

Dean may have been right about age, but this had nothing to do with the government response to the hurricane after it hit:

Campanella … noted that 70% of the identified Katrina victims in New Orleans were older than 60, frequently lifelong residents who had ridden out other hurricanes and refused to evacuate. Elderly people are more likely to be wealthier and to live in wealthier neighborhoods.

Of course, with all the rhetorical mudslinging, we should not forget the tragedies, which often go beyond just deaths, if that is possible:

Of the 1,095 people killed by Katrina in Louisiana, the state has formally identified and released demographic data on 535. Many other victims are tentatively identified, though 93 remain unidentifiable. A couple of bodies are recovered every week, and officials say other victims may have been swept into the Gulf of Mexico, never to be found.

Medical and dental records were destroyed by the storm, and many corpses are so severely decomposed that traditional identification methods such as fingerprints are useless.

Even with the majority of the bodies identified, the state is unable to determine when most died, or how. Many death certificates bear the date of Katrina’s landfall — Aug. 29 — even though the victim could have died days later. Given the severity of damage suffered by bodies in the floodwaters, cause of death is also extremely difficult to determine and will never be known for many victims, Cataldie said.

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