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  • Hurricane Katrina: Who Received Aid         



    Hurricane Katrina:

    A Closer Look at Those Affected and How They Received Aid

    Laura Giannotti

    Senior Distinction

    Sociology Department

    Emmanuel College

    © Laura Giannotti

  • Hurricane Katrina: Who Received Aid         



    Why did counties receive differing amounts of aid, following Hurricane Katrina? Although one

    expects it would be based on the damage a county had, I hypothesize, based upon social capital

    theory, that the amount of aid received was also associated with the number of businesses in the

    county, the poverty rate, racial make-up, and net population size. I conduct secondary data

    analysis on data collected by the U.S. Census, FEMA, and other national databases. In support

    of my hypotheses, I find positive correlations between a rising poverty rate and the percentage of

    black residents, respectively, and the amount of aid received by a county, while a negative

    relationship exists between structural damage and aid received across county lines. A positive

    relationship exists between the number of non-profits in a county and aid, suggesting that non-

    profits may advocate for aid, making up for limited social capital at the individual level.

  • Hurricane Katrina: Who Received Aid         



    The morning of August 29, 2005 was not a typical morning for the millions of people

    living along the Gulf Coast states. Early that morning, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the

    region. Winds reached as high as 140 mph in parts of Southeastern Louisiana (NCDC, 2005).

    The storm surge caused by onshore winds reached at least 30 feet, flooding towns and cities

    (NCDC, 2005). Months later, I travelled to Harrison County, MS to aid in the recovery efforts.

    Cement slabs covered the landscape with scattered piles of debris from where houses had once

    been. Palm trees no longer stood tall but at 45° angles. Houses that still stood carried memories

    of the storm, with watermarks high off the ground and the smell of mold. One could see large

    orange “X-shaped” grids painted on the sides of buildings to indicate when the search date

    occurred. Experiences with locals remained close to my heart as the years passed by. Locals

    brought to light the injustices of aid distribution, mainly the issue of aid distribution and its

    inequalities in poor areas. Another apparent theme from Mississippi residents was anger towards

    the attention and recovery efforts directed at New Orleans, but not other affected areas. The

    stories I heard years ago serve as my motivation for researching this topic. What factors

    determined how much aid a county received? Did some counties receive more aid than others?

    Prior Research:

    Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters that America has seen. For

    many, the terms “Hurricane Katrina” and “New Orleans” became synonymous during and after

    2005. Millions were displaced and billions of dollars were needed to rebuild the affected areas

    (Bush, 2005).

    An Overview of the Effects of Hurricane Katrina:

  • Hurricane Katrina: Who Received Aid         


    Hurricane Katrina was very costly in terms of destruction and amount of lives lost. John

    S. Petterson, Laura D. Stanley, Edward Glazier, and James Philipp (2006) found that homes,

    businesses, and public buildings along the Gulf Coast received the vast majority of the damage

    from the storm. The authors carried out a preliminary assessment of social and economic

    impacts. These authors researched the effect Hurricane Katrina had on energy, finance,

    construction, housing, and gaming. To obtain data, the authors interviewed evacuees. Petterson

    et al (2006) found that many lacked food, water, safety, evacuation aid, and medical resources.

    Why were there so many errors in recovery efforts? Did some have access to resources while

    others did not?

    Understanding Hurricane Katrina though Stratification Theory:

    In every society, not all are equal in terms of economic, or class, status. Different class

    levels are stratified and have created multiple social classes. Kingsley Davis and Wilbert E.

    Moore (1945) declared members of a functioning society have different statuses and carry out

    their designated roles. This functionalist perspective of stratification theory suggests that while

    parts of society function as a whole, individuals have specific tasks to complete in order to keep

    society functioning; these specific tasks rank individuals in a particular social class. Rewards for

    completed task may include prestige or income (Davis & Moore, 1945). The position’s

    importance along with the amount of training and talent required for a specific position

    determines the amount of rewards an individual obtains (Davis & Moore, 1945). If a position

    does not require much skill or training, individuals that hold the position will not receive many

    rewards and will become potentially replaceable. The positions in society not highly important

    to the functioning of society become the jobs of the working and poor class.

  • Hurricane Katrina: Who Received Aid         


    The class differences that stem from Davis and Moore’s stratification theory (1945)

    illustrate differences in societies across the world, including the counties affected by Hurricane

    Katrina. In the counties affected by the storm, the class and racial divisions were clear. Those

    from lower classes and minority groups did not have the resources available in order to evacuate

    (i.e. enough money for transportation or a vehicle in order to leave).

    Timothy Brezina (2008) addressed the lack of governmental aid made available to

    survivors, both pre- and post-storm. Brezina (2008) used the Survey of Hurricane Katrina

    Evacuees, targeting individuals who were hit the hardest by the storm, in order to analyze

    attitudes and evacuation patterns. Those who evacuated early were predominately wealthy,

    white women (Brezina, 2008). The majority of those who participated in government-assisted

    post-evacuation programs were unemployed, poor, African American females (Brezina, 2008).

    In addition, during recovery, many of the poor had to rely on outside sources to recover.

    Brezina’s findings (2008) further show the stratification between different classes and racial


    Much like Brezina (2008), James R. Elliott and Jeremy Pais (2006), addressed the role of

    class differences and government aid, post-Katrina. Elliott and Pais (2006) compared a variety

    of characteristics including race, gender, age, homeownership, and income distributions, to short-

    term recovery efforts, stress and emotional support available, and the likelihood of victims

    returning home. While examining who did not evacuate the affected areas, findings show that

    the vast majority of residents eventually evacuated but consistent with Brezina’s study (2008),

    those who braved the storm were heavily low-income African Americans. This was due to the

    stratification of classes and races and the overall lack of resources available to the African-

    American population. Unemployment after the storm and the stress that victims experienced

  • Hurricane Katrina: Who Received Aid         


    were higher among African Americans than their white counterparts (Elliott & Pais, 2006).

    Individuals in the lower ranks of society received fewer rewards and thus did not have the

    resources to evacuate before the storm (Davis & Miller, 1945). Similarly, in a study by Lee

    Clarke (2006), Clarke found that poor African-Americans could not evacuate prior to the storm.

    Both the conditions that minority groups and lower social classes experienced were a result of

    stratification. The stratification of social classes took a toll on minority groups. Since the

    founding of the United States, African-Americans, stereotypically, occupied the lowest classes in

    society. After the Civil War, and even the Civil Rights Movement, many still experienced

    inequalities and segregation. This placed minority groups in the lower classes of society and

    forced them to receive the smallest amount of rewards, which has put them at a significant


    The Presence of Anomie in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

    Anomie, a term coined by Emile Durkheim (1897), or weak societal norms and the

    absence of shared values, results in a lack of social control and purpose in society. This idea,

    often described as “normlessness”, expresses the absence of norms present in a society

    (Durkheim, 1897). In the direct aftermath of the storm, communities experienced anomie, both

    on a macro and micro level. Many businesses and local organizations, such as police stations,