They Blew the Levee

Distrust of Authorities Among Hurricane Katrina Evacuees

On August 8, 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city of New Orleans and water levels reached rooftops in many areas. Despite strong evacuation warnings followed by a mandatory evacuation order, more than 100,000 residents failed to leave their homes prior to the hurricane's landfall. Distrust of authorities seemed likely to have played a role in residents' reactions to the evacuation. As part of this study, researchers interviewed 56 English-speaking adults between September 9 and September 12, 2005 who had been living in Louisiana prior to the hurricane. The interviewers found that the residents distrusted, in particular, the competency of the authorities, from federal and local government officials to emergency workers. In addition, several interviewees felt the authorities treated them inequitably because of their race or socioeconomic circumstances. Some believed that the levees were broken intentionally to save the rich neighborhoods and flood the poor.

To build trust in the future, the authors recommend including community representatives in disaster planning and response, as well as engaging in more community-based preparatory research in which partnerships between communities and researchers are formed.