Study Says Storms Displaced More People Than Estimated

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 7 -- Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused far more dislocation to Louisiana's population than previously estimated, with tens of thousands more people being forced to relocate than previous population counts have suggested, according to a study released Tuesday by the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

While other population studies reflected changes in overall population, they did not capture the vast amount of churning that occurred not only as people left wrecked homes but also as they were forced to leave intact dwellings to find jobs elsewhere and as others moved in to abandoned homes, researchers said.

Also released Tuesday was a survey of residents of Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer parks showing that, for the poorest evacuees, domestic circumstances are now far worse: More are unemployed, many have been the victims of theft and domestic abuse, and about half are unclear about how long they might remain at government-sponsored trailer sites.

"We knew the storms fundamentally upended the lives of individuals that had their houses wrecked," said Andy Kopplin, director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. "Now we've seen how the fabric of each community has been unraveled by major migrations in and out, as major economic disruptions have taken hold."

Previous population estimates in Louisiana focused on the net change in population. For example, previous New Orleans estimates have suggested that about 226,000 have left since the storm.

But Tuesday's study, which is based on 2006 data, suggests that the number of people who moved after the storm is considerably higher. About 246,000 left the city, about 50,000 moved from one house in the city to another, and about 20,000 moved in from elsewhere.

Overall, in the 18 parishes studied, the storms forced 398,000 to move away and 151,000 to relocate within their parish.

The closure of New Orleans for two months after the flood led many employers to relocate; many have not returned.

"This study shows a massive disruption of the population that has not been indicated in other data," said David Bowman, director of research for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, who presented the population findings to state policymakers Tuesday.

The study also reflected a pattern in the migrations that researchers speculated was the result of how each place was evacuated.

About two-thirds of those who have left New Orleans are out of state or outside the 18-parish study area.

In neighboring St. Bernard Parish, by contrast, most residents have stayed close by. Less than one-third of residents left the state or the 18-parish study area.

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