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Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina Resettle Along a Racial Divide

December 12, 2005|Tomas Alex Tizon and Doug Smith | Times Staff Writers

The postal service information, tracking movements among regions that share the first three digits of a ZIP Code, roughly corroborates Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics on people who have applied for aid.

The postal service does not normally release address changes but has agreed to provide quarterly summaries. The next release will be in January.

After initial stays in emergency shelters, many blacks went where they had family, which partly explains the migration to Houston, Dallas and Atlanta. Earlier migrations of Louisiana blacks to these cities created networks of extended families, particularly in Houston, about a five-hour drive from New Orleans. Louisianans have long migrated to Houston for jobs and better schools.

At its peak, Houston housed as many as 200,000 evacuees. City officials say as many as 50,000 have left, creating speculation that residents are trickling back home -- or close to home.

Audrey Singer, a migration expert in Washington and author of an academic paper titled "The World in a Zip Code," said many New Orleans evacuees want to get as close to home as possible to monitor the recovery process. Studies show that about half the residents in the most devastated areas of the city are homeowners.

"Being close by is a good thing for them because they can get back quickly and check on their properties," Singer said.

Many evacuees have made frequent trips to retrieve whatever belongings they could salvage. New Orleans officials have said more and more residents are making their way back to the city for the first time, if only for a brief visit.

Frey, the Michigan demographer, said he was skeptical about media surveys in which nearly 40% of evacuees said they would not return home. Those surveys, he said, were conducted in emergency shelters during the first weeks after Katrina, a time when most people were still in shock.

More than three months after Katrina barreled through the region, thousands of evacuees are still dazed and disoriented, making it difficult to predict how many will return home, Frey said.

The uncertainty is exacerbated by the seeming lack of progress in rebuilding New Orleans. Many evacuees are standing by in frustration as government leaders debate what course of action to take, according to Amy Liu, a policy analyst at the Brookings Institution.

"My sense is that many families are anxious to go back," Liu said, but as more time passes without a concrete recovery plan for New Orleans, the more likely it is that evacuees will settle elsewhere.

Some experts paint a picture of a huge, restless, growing population of evacuees hovering just outside New Orleans, waiting for a green light to allow them back into their old lives.

Such a longing for home is understandable, especially among low-income blacks, Frey said. Nearly nine out of 10 blacks in New Orleans were born in Louisiana. Compare that with Houston, where 75% of black residents are Texas-born, and Atlanta, where 57% are native to Georgia.

Many black New Orleans residents, especially those in their 40s, 50s and 60s, "had not traveled widely outside of their neighborhoods, much less to a different city or state," Frey said. "This population felt more settled in one place than any population anywhere in the United States."

Times data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Where the displaced landed

Most of the households displaced by Hurricane Katrina have stayed close to home, according to a Times analysis of address changes filed with the postal service. Of 325,057 households that moved, 59% of them relocated within the area of hurricane damage.

Northwest -- Less than 1%

Plains states -- Less than 1%

Midwest -- 3%

Northeast -- 2%

Southwest -- 3%

Gulf states -- 28%

Hurricane-damaged area -- 59%

Southeast -- 4%

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

The relocation of New Orleans residents

Evacuees from the poor and largely black city of New Orleans relocated to areas across the country that were far different from their neighborhoods, whereas those displaced from the New Orleans suburbs tended to move to places that were nearer and more similar to their own.

Suburban New Orleans

75,181 households

Nearly two-thirds of the suburban households remained in the area damaged by Hurricane Katrina

Where they went

Northwest -- Less than 1%

Plains states -- Less than 1%

Midwest -- 2%

Northeast -- 1%

Southwest -- 2%

Gulf states -- 28%

Hurricane-damaged area -- 63%

Southeast -- 4%

--

Urban New Orleans (131,586 households)

Fewer than half of urban households relocated within the damage area and a higher percentage moved great distances

Where they went

Northwest -- Less than 1%

Plains states -- Less than 1%

Midwest -- 3%

Northeast --31%

Southwest -- 3%

Gulf states -- 39%

Hurricane-damaged area -- 47%

Southeast -- 4%

--

Racial breakdown of suburban New Orleans was:

Black: 24.2%

White: 65.5%

Latino: 6.1%

Other: 4.3%

Suburban evacuees moved to areas that were:

Black: 16.8%

White: 62.2%

Latino: 15%

Other: 6%

Moved from area with: 14.3% poor

To area with: 12.9% poor

--

Racial breakdown of New Orleans was:

Black: 62.4%

White: 30.9%

Latino: 3.1%

Other: 3.5%

City evacuees moved to areas that were:

Black: 15.3%

White: 63.9%

Latino: 14.2%

Other: 6.6%

Moved from area with: 26.5% poor

To area with: 12.6% poor

Note: Does not include ZIPs to which fewer than 25 households relocated

Sources: Postal Service, ESRI. Data analysis by Sandra Poindexter and Doug Smith

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