In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, media-borne legends overwhelmingly portrayed poor New Orleanians as criminals; the reports carried the force of truth in discouraging rescues and conferring upon their tellers the right to be wrong. In contrast, survivors’ narratives assigned guilt to government elites, depicted fellow survivors as heroes, and met rejection from the media. Thus emerged a pattern of divided narrative communities, narrative content, and narrative reception. This study of Katrina legendry surveys the damage wrought by culturally embedded double standards of credibility; one offshoot is the “David Effect,” through which blame is attached to the most vulnerable survivors. One corrective is to counter the media legendry with insider accounts, as in the project Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston (SKRH), the world’s first in which the survivors documented their own disaster experiences. SKRH employed “deframed,” “kitchen table” techniques to record survivors on their own personal and cultural terms. Survivor legendry reveals depths of reasoning, compassion, and introspection rarely found in media accounts. The success of SKRH suggests a new public health strategy, based on the premise that the most humane and effective response to disaster-spawned trauma is to give survivors the support and wherewithal to document themselves.


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pp. 139-176
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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