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American Anthropologist

Vulnerability and Place: Flat Land and Uneven Risk in New Orleans

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Abstract

Vulnerability to extreme events is shaped by both physical and social factors, and Hurricane Katrina brutally exposed that fact in New Orleans. Historically, low-income Irish and Italian populations suffered when floods washed over the Crescent City. Modifications in the structural defenses to floods and shifting demographics since 1950 altered the geography of vulnerability. In recent years, both blacks and whites have occupied below-sea-level sites, exposing both to flood risks, although the racial composition of the city has undergone a near reversal. Additionally, low-income residents, found disproportionately within the African American population, suffered dual vulnerability. Not only did many live in low-lying areas but evacuation plans relied on private automobiles that left many poor residents to endure the impact of the hurricane-induced flooding.

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