That’s how many fewer African-Americans are living in New Orleans now than prior to Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall 11 years ago today. Nearly one in three black residents have not returned to the city after the storm.
It was the worst urban disaster in modern US history. Eighty percent of New Orleans lay under water after the epic collapse of the area’s flood-protection system—more than 110,000 homes and another 20,000 plus businesses, along with most of the city’s schools, police and fire stations, electrical plans, and its public transportation system.
Unlike last year, when the 10th anniversary meant satellite trucks clogging the streets, this anniversary is unlikely to draw much media attention—which would be a shame if I thought the coverage last year was any good.
Large stretches of New Orleans were still reeling from the disaster last summer, as those satellite trucks sat parked in the French Quarter. There, the on-air talent did their stand-ups against the backdrop of Jackson Square and the media rarely ventured to the eastern half of the city, where most of the city’s black residents lived prior to Katrina.
On the east side they might have shot footage of the Seventh Ward, a black working-class community that was still only around 60 percent rebuilt a decade after Katrina. They could have gone to Pontchartrain Park, a black middle class community that the actor Wendell Pierce, who had grown up there, dubbed a “black Mayberry.” Pontchartrain Park was doing no better than the Seventh Ward. Or they might have reported from New Orleans East, a black professional class neighborhood still pocked by boarded-up strip malls and abandoned businesses. It is maybe 80 to 85 percent rebuilt eleven years after Katrina.
Most shocking is the Lower Ninth Ward, where the average resident was living on $16,000 a year before the hurricane. You can still drive blocks there and not see a single home. The neighborhood is still missing more than half its pre-Katrina population.