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Hurricane Katrina is one of the deadliest natural disasters that had a significant impact on the nation. It killed almost 2,000 people, and thousands of square miles (nearly 90,000) were damaged (Hurricane Katrina, 2015). This was also one of the biggest failures in the history of the US government as it was unable to respond adequately to the challenges associated with the disaster. The disgraceful decisions made by the officials (when people were not allowed to other not affected territories) reveal the despair of people and inability of the government.
The hurricane aftermaths also unveil major issues existing in the USA. Some people stress that the hurricane is a ‘class’ disaster while others insist on its being ‘race’ disaster (Lavelle, 2006). However, the population affected and the challenges they faced as well as the public opinion on the matter show that it was a class disaster.
Race Disaster or Class Disaster?
First, it is necessary to define the two types of disasters. ‘Race’ disaster is the one that has a different impact on people of different races. As a rule, it has the most negative impact on people of color. At the same time, ‘class’ disaster is the one that affects people of different classes differently, and the poor people are the most vulnerable. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, Americans were divided into two camps. One group consisted of middle-class Americans and the rich while the other camp included those who lived below the poverty line with the income of less than “$14,680 for a family of three” (Alter, 2005, para. 5).
The public opinion also shows the divergence between the classes as rich people were unable to understand the needs of those affected. They often blamed those who did not leave the hazardous territories for ignoring the evacuation notice, but they did not think (or even could not imagine) that the poor simply had no opportunity to flee due to the lack of access to transportation (Lavelle, 2006). Alter (2005) also states that rich people claimed that the poor did not manage their income properly and lived beyond their means, which led to their financial constraints and lack of resources that could be used during the natural disaster.
As has been mentioned above, some people claim that Hurricane Katrina is an example of a ‘race’ disaster. They stress that the vast majority of the most affected people who were even unable to leave the most dangerous areas were African Americans. However, it is important to remember that 67% of the population of New Orleans is people of color while 30% of the city’s population (irrespective of their race) are poor (Hurricane Katrina, 2015). Some insist that it is important to see the issue in the historical perspective. People sharing this view claim that African Americans being poor (which is historically predetermined) had no opportunity to move to safer areas during and after Hurricane Katrina. This perspective implies the focus on the mixture of race and class.
Nonetheless, it is inappropriate to employ this mixed approach since every nation has some history that defines the relationship between different groups of people and classes. At the same time, modernity accounts for the financial wellbeing of the population and the distribution of resources. Historically, people of color are more vulnerable when it comes to economic issues. However, in the case of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermaths, race has little to do with the response of the government and society.
The US officials were unable and quite reluctant to help all those who did not have the financial ability to leave the dangerous zone (Alter, 2015). At the same time, they managed to provide efficient assistance to those who timely left the city. Poor people had scarce resources, and their situation became even worse after the devastating disaster that destroyed their property.
The issues associated with poverty have become rather overwhelming in the country that is regarded as one of the wealthiest in the world. Alert (2005) stresses that 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2005. This population is as vulnerable as poor people of New Orleans who will definitely be left aside when some disaster breaks out. The poor will have no resources to leave the dangerous area, and they are likely to have difficulties with rebuilding their lives due to the lack (or the absence) of savings and jobs in damages areas.
The response to Hurricane Katrina can be regarded as an example of what poor people (as a class) can expect from the US government in case of such emergency. First, poor people (irrespective of the color of their skin) will have difficulties with moving to safer territories. This was the case during Katrina as the poor did not have a car to go to the areas mentioned by officials or just any safe territory (Lavelle, 2006). Many people were barely able to reach the safest spot in the city.
There were no proper actions undertaken by the government or local officials. People were warned about the upcoming hurricane, but people had to think about evacuation on their own. They had to choose a place to stay (a hotel, a relative’s house, and so on) in the undamaged territory. People had to think of the ways to come there. Officials did not address these major issues properly.
It is necessary to note that the majority of well-off Americans did not understand the gravity of the situation and the misery people found themselves in. Lavelle (2006) states that Barbara Bush’s words show the real distance between well-to-do Americans and their poor fellow people. Thus, the wife of George Bush (the 41st President of the USA) visited a Houston shelter for evacuees and said that they were poor anyway so the conditions they had to live in (which were quite challenging) were quite good for them as they got used to living in a similar environment. It is clear that the woman had no idea about the life of poor people, and, more importantly, she had no empathy at all. Racism could account for such opinions, but many white people had to endure the same conditions. The former first lady reveals the gap between the classes in the United States.
The aftermaths of the hurricane can also be regarded as the evidence of the class background of the natural disaster impact. Officials did not provide any sufficient program that would contribute to the rebuilding of the region (Lavelle, 2006). Volunteers were the major force that tried and, in many cases, successfully responded to the needs of affected people. Officials are still reluctant to allocate funds to rebuild the region where mostly poor people had lived before the disaster.
Remarkably, investment goes to areas where well-off people dwell. Of course, the skin color is also irrelevant here. The government and local officials do not want to invest money in areas where no meaningful payoffs are expected. In other words, only those who pay more in taxes may feel more or less safe while those who have scarce funds have to take care of themselves on their own. The poor, irrespective of their race, are under double pressure as they do not have an opportunity to get resources (no jobs), and they are not protected by the government.
To sum up, it is possible to state that Hurricane Katrina is a class disaster. The disaster hit the poor irrespective of the color of their skin. Underprivileged people did not have enough resources to react accordingly, and the government, as well as local officials, did not provide adequate support to these people. Clearly, the majority of those affected by the hurricane were African Americans, but the majority of people living in New Orleans is also people of color. The overall response of the American society to the natural disaster unveils the gap between the classes in the USA. Poor Americans have been neglected as well as the very problem of poverty. The majority of Americans are ready to leave problems of the poor unnoticed.
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Alter, J. (2005). The other America. Newsweek. Web.
Hurricane Katrina. (2015). Web.
Lavelle, K. (2006). Hurricane Katrina: The race and class debate. Monthly Review, 58(3). Web.