New Orleans loses one third of population

Friday 11th Feb 2011 by theWeather Club

Hurricane Katrina has left a huge scar on the American consciousness. The hurricane displaced 200,000 people, claimed at least 1,800 lives and the lack of an effective Federal response did far more damage to President Bush’s domestic reputation that the controversies surrounding the Iraq War. Now the 2010 US census has shone more light on the longer term effects of that catastrophic storm.

According to newly released data, the city has lost a staggering 29% of its population since the 2000 count, and there is no doubt as to the cause of the decline. While it has been known anecdotally that there were fewer people in the city, the figure has come as a shock to everyone. As people dissected the report, one location in particular stood out: St Bernard Parish, down river from the city centre has lost almost half of its residents. Some people have contested the figure's accuracy, but there is no doubt the numbers represent the most reliable snapshot yet of what has happened in New Orleans since the great storm of 2005.

Robert Tannen, a sculptor lives a 10-minute walk from the famous French Quarter. “This is no surprise to me, because I can feel it every day,” he says. “There are fewer houses that are occupied around us. Just on my street, you see fewer people walking at all times of day or night. There is just less visible population around us.”

And it is not only the numbers that have changed. The social make-up of the city has changed as well it is now whiter, richer and has a higher average age. The fact that the numbers also show a shift towards a whiter and less poor city makes some sense. They indicate that that it was the poorest residents who were forced to flee the city and who are having the most difficult time returning. While 67% of the population was black in 2000, it is now 60%. More worryingly for the future vibrancy of the city, it is also home to 44% fewer children.

There is no doubt that the residents are fighting back and doing their best to build something new and better from the wreckage wrought by Katrina. But these figures remind us that not even the most advanced countries in the world can fully withstand what nature will sometimes unleash. Whatever the future holds for New Orleans, it will never again be the city it was before those fateful few days in August 2005.