Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions

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Abstract

There has been a notable absence in geographic literature concerning the connection between disasters and the concept of ‘home’. Similarly, return migration has largely been overlooked in geographical enquiries, reflecting the assumption that migrants are returning ‘home’ in a journey that involves little adjustment. Moving beyond a consideration of the socio-economic factors that undoubtedly play a part in whether the displaced are able to return, and exploring what it means to return somewhere that is expected to be familiar and safe, this paper examines the understudied emotional motivations that influence post-disaster return decisions. Contributing to geographic literature on trauma, disasters and the concept of ‘home’, this paper uses semi-structured interviews with Hurricane Katrina evacuees, to explore the influence of loss and nostalgia on their decisions to return or relocate following displacement. Instead of trying to instrumentalise these decisions, I argue that they are complex, multidimensional and individually unique. This paper stresses that there is a powerful emotional quality associated with how people relate to place, recognising that return decisions are emotionally driven and not necessarily based on material constraints. In order to plan for future catastrophic events, I identify the need for a deeper understanding of the emotional intensity of the post-disaster situation, and a sustained research focus on the many factors that influence the decision to return following disaster displacement.

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