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Robert D. Bullard Differential Vulnerabilities: Environmental and Economic Inequality and Government Response to Unnatural Disasters ON AUGUST 29, 2005, HURRICANE KATRINA MADE LANDFALL NEAR New O rleans, leaving death and destruction across the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama Gulf coast counties.* Katrina was the m ost destructive hurricane in US histoiy, costing over $70 billion in insured damage. Katrina was also one of the deadliest storms in decades, w ith a death toll of 1,836, and still counting. Katrina’s death toll is surpassed only by the 1928 hurricane in Florida (estimates vary from 2,500 to 3,000 deaths) and the 8,000 w ho perished in the 1900 Galveston hurri­ cane (Kleinberg, 2003; Pastor et al„ 2006). After some two and a h alf years, reconstruction continues to move at a slow pace in New Orleans and the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama Gulf coast region. The lethargic recoveiy is now begin­ ning to overshadow the deadly storm itself (Kromm and Sturgis, 2007). Questions linger: W hat w ent wrong? Can it happen again? Is govern­ m ent equipped to plan for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from natu­ ral and man-made disasters? Can the public trust government response to be fair? Does race m atter w hen it comes to disaster relief? social research Vol 75 : No 3 : Fall 2008 753 W HY FOCUS ON THE SOUTH? This paper uses the events th at unfolded in New Orleans, the Gulf coast region, and the southern United States as the sociohistorical backdrop for examining social vulnerability and governm ent response to unnatu­ ral disasters. The case studies of disparate treatm ent date back m ore than eight decades. The South is unique because of the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and entrenched w hite supremacy. The region has a history of black business ownership, black hom e ownership, and black land ownership. Most black farmers are located in the South. It is no accident that the South gave birth to the m odem civil rights move­ m ent and the environm ental justice movement. And the vast m ajority (over 95 percent) of the 105 historically black colleges and universities are located in the South. The 2000 census show ed th at African Am ericans ended the century by returning “hom e” to the South—the same region they spent m ost of the century escaping. Since the mid-seventies, reverse m igra­ tion patterns indicate th at m ore blacks are entering the South than leaving for other regions. Today, over 54 percent of the nation’s blacks live in the South (McKinnon, 2000). In the 620 counties that m ake up the southern “blackbelt,” stretching from Delaware to Texas, African Americans comprise a larger percentage of the total population than they do in the country as a whole—about 12 percent. In the 15 southern states (excluding Texas and Florida), blacks make up 22.8 percent of the population, compared w ith 3.5 percent for Hispanics. Transportation serves as a key com ponent in addressing poverty, unem ploym ent, and equal opportunity goals, ensuring access to educa­ tion, health care, and other public services. American society is largely divided between individuals w ith cars and those w ithout cars (Bullard and Johnson, 1997). The private automobile is still the dom inant travel mode of every segm ent of the American population, including the poor and people of color. Nationally, only 7 percent of white households do not own a car, compared w ith 24 percent of African-American households, 17 percent 754 social research of Latino households, and 13 percent of Asian-American households. Cars are an essential part of emergency evacuation plans. Disaster evac­ uation plans across the nation assume that people own a car. Nearly 11 million households in the United States lack vehicles, or more than 28 million Americans who would have difficulty evacuating their area in an emergency. In 1997, to encourage b etter disaster planning, the Federal Emergency M anagem ent Agency (FEMA) launched Project Impact, a pilot program that provided funding for com m unities to assess their vulnerable populations and make arrangem ents to get people w...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 753-784
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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