10 years later: New Orleans residents reflect on life after Katrina
Abramson is one of three social scientists leading a project called Katrina It's looking for long-term predictors of resilience—factors that cushion the shock of disaster and set the course for recovery. In their three long-running studies, the researchers have found a range of factors that seem to help, such as financial resources, social and cultural ties, and access to stable housing after the event, which all seem to help.
Now, they're combining their cohorts to see whether those results will generalize.
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If the predictors they identify hold true across other natural disasters—and that remains to be seen—Katrina 10 could help policymakers and disaster recovery programs pick out especially vulnerable groups. It might even steer them toward interventions that do the most good. Following survivors wherever they end up, year after year, is an unusual and costly proposition for a field in which disaster experts tend to lurch from one catastrophe to the next.
Last year alone saw flooding across Houston, Texas; wildfires in California; and a crushing hurricane in Puerto Rico; to name a few. But studying survivors long after the floodwaters recede can pay off, the researchers say. Long after debris was cleared, families struggled to recover. The city's Superdome, normally home to raucous football games, overflowed with refugees.
Some families trudged out of the city on foot; others who couldn't escape waved for help from rooftops.
10 years later: New Orleans residents reflect on life after Katrina | MSNBC
The country had never seen anything like it. Katrina "is a flash point in people's minds about how bad it could really be," says Jeffrey Hebert, a city planning expert who from to served as the city's first "chief resilience officer. Despite his catchy title, Hebert acknowledges that resilience has many meanings, some easier to measure than others.
Engineers may gauge a city's physical resilience by the strain a levee can bear.
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Pinpointing what makes a person or community resilient is harder. But by a stroke of luck, two social scientists who later became leaders of Katrina 10 were uniquely poised to try. That's because both had been following New Orleanians before the storm for unrelated studies, and so were able to pivot and compare subjects' lives before with what came after.
In , he launched a project in the quiet area of eastern New Orleans comparing the lives of Vietnamese immigrants who had settled here after evacuating from Saigon in with those of families who stayed behind in Vietnam. In the summer of , his team was wrapping up a survey on the health and well-being of people in Vietnamese households.
Meanwhile, another sociologist, Mary Waters from Harvard University, was part of a nationwide study examining how higher education affects the health of single parents. The team had reached about first-generation college students in the New Orleans area for a phone survey when Katrina sent them fleeing for dry ground.
Waters, safe and dry in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and VanLandingham, who escaped to Galveston, Texas, before his own house took on a meter of water, didn't know each other. They didn't know much about disaster research. But both immediately recognized that their questionnaires documenting the health, social networks, and personality traits of Vietnamese immigrants and mostly poor, black, single mothers before the hurricane had taken on outsize significance. In the months after Katrina, Waters and VanLandingham, along with their colleagues, began tracking down their displaced participants to see how they were faring.
The researchers tried calling the phone numbers on file and sent teams to search New Orleans neighborhoods for participants or friends who might know where to find them. Meanwhile, Katrina's devastation also drew Abramson in. Their goal was to monitor those families over the coming years as they sought permanent housing back in their original neighborhoods or elsewhere, and to track how disaster and displacement affected health.
In a first round of surveys, Abramson's Gulf Coast Child and Family Health Study interviewed people from displaced households between 6 and 12 months after the storm. As the team's passenger vans rolled through FEMA housing sites, they found families of six crammed into trailers, uncertain whether they'd be forced to move out on a few days' notice. Some feared for their safety and kept their children inside.
Abramson would track those families over time and watch their paths diverge. But in another population, a future colleague of VanLandingham's saw a different trajectory from the start. Cam Tran had immigrated from Vietnam as a child, and after Katrina she traveled from her home in Texas to New Orleans to help her in-laws recover.
Tran remembers the day she drove into their neighborhood, about a month after the storm. But yes, please do come back! Tran took their advice. She moved here and helped set up a charter school. And she later became a coordinator for VanLandingham's study, Katrina Impacts on Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans, which showed that the optimistic welcome she received from the rebuilders presaged an entire community's long-term recovery.
Robert Campo has lived here since he was born, taking care of a fishing marina that has been in his family for more than years. In August , with mile per hour winds, Hurricane Katrina destroyed it. You're never gonna stop fishing. That's why people come here is because the fishing is so good," Robert says. Fishing and living life on the water: He passed this passion down to his son Zack.
It runs in my blood.
Salt water runs through my veins," Zack Campo says. As the year anniversary approaches, the city has plans for various events to mark the date.
Survivor paths diverge
Bush, who was at the center of controversy around how the federal government responded to the emergency, and former President Bill Clinton, who will attend the main remembrance event on Saturday. For more feature photography, go to msnbc. New Orleans residents reflect on life after Katrina.
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