Pain, Fury Still Rage a Year After Katrina

A year after it hammered the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina's devastation persists in the ongoing loss, frustration and anger of those hardest hit by the storm, with widespread views of waste and mismanagement in the recovery effort, significant personal stress and broad fears of what another hurricane could do.

Across the 91 counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama designated as Katrina disaster areas, 57 percent of residents say most of the approximately $44 billion the federal government has spent on hurricane recovery in the last year has been wasted -- and that rises to 66 percent in New Orleans, an ABC News poll finds.

Other assessments of the government's relief efforts are as bad or worse. More than eight in 10 in New Orleans, and six in 10 across the Gulf Coast, are frustrated with the process; nearly two-thirds in New Orleans, and nearly half across the region, are angry about it. Seventy percent in New Orleans lack confidence in the government's ability to handle another major disaster. And most blacks in the region and across the country think race has affected recovery efforts.

Rating the Federal Government
  National Gulf New Orleans
Rate the government's recovery efforts negatively   66%   59%   84%
Recovery money mostly wasted   60   57   66

All told, 84 percent in New Orleans, and nearly six in 10 in the Gulf Coast more broadly, give negative ratings to the way the government has dealt with Katrina recovery. And many residents (six in 10 in New Orleans, and four in 10 across the disaster counties) say the experience has weakened their overall trust in government to help people in need.

Where government has struggled, though, neighbors and strangers have pulled together. Both in New Orleans and across the region, about two-thirds say the hurricane and its aftermath strengthened their trust in their fellow man -- if not in their government -- to lend a hand.

Personal Losses

Still, personal losses -- material and psychological alike -- are lasting. Nearly three-quarters of New Orleans residents say they have not yet personally recovered from Katrina, six in 10 report long-term damage to their emotional well-being and about as many say the possibility of another hurricane is creating stress and anxiety in their lives.

Such reactions are less widely held, but still prevalent, among the 5.5 million residents of all 91 disaster counties (areas designated by FEMA as eligible for individual assistance aid from the federal government). Four in 10 report long-term emotional damage, as many are stressed about the possibility of another storm and one in three say they have not yet personally recovered from Katrina.

Long-Term Negative Impact of Katrina
  Gulf New Orleans
Personal finances   46%   62%
Emotional well-being   40   61
Personal health   19   40

Four in 10 in New Orleans also report long-term damage to their personal health as a result of the hurricane; about two in 10 across the region say the same, a major public health impact. Six in 10 in New Orleans and nearly half across the regional report long-term damage to their personal finances; one factor is that six in 10 suffered property losses for which they were not fully insured.

More than one in 10 regionally, and more than one in three in New Orleans, had a close friend or family member killed as a result of the storm. (The official death toll in Louisiana is 1,464.)

Katrina's physical devastation comes clear in other numbers: Eighty percent in the region, and nearly 90 percent in New Orleans, say their area was damaged by the storm. A year later, moreover, just half of residents across the disaster counties whose area was damaged say it's fully recovered, and in New Orleans a scant 17 percent say so.

Among current New Orleans residents -- the city was severely depopulated -- 85 percent say their primary residence was damaged by the hurricane and two-thirds suffered other property damage. More than half say the damage to their area was severe; more than half also report a severe impact on their personal lives. Across the region, people who report severe damage in their area are more apt to report slow progress toward recovery and negative personal impacts.

At the same time, there is hopefulness: Among people whose area has not yet fully recovered, majorities think it'll get there eventually. Similarly, among those who have not yet fully recovered personally, two-thirds think that eventually they will.

Hurricane Damage
  Gulf New Orleans
Area damaged   80%   89%
Damaged severely   27   54
If damaged, area fully recovered   51   17
If not recovered, eventually will   72   60

Nonetheless, a quarter of New Orleans residents don't think their area will ever fully recover. And two in 10 doubt they'll personally ever recover completely.

The poll, including random-sample interviews in the Katrina disaster counties, New Orleans and nationally, supports ABC News' division-wide special programming, "Katrina: Where Things Stand," airing over the next week. Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, 2005, with sustained winds of 125-mph and a storm surge that breached the levees of New Orleans.

Government Response

Weak ratings of government recovery efforts in the affected areas is reflected in national views as well. Among all Americans, 60 percent think most of the money spent on hurricane recovery has been wasted, two-thirds rate the government's efforts negatively and half lack confidence in the government's ability to respond effectively to another major disaster.

Criticism is not limited to the federal government. Nationally, more than six in 10 rate the local and state governments negatively. And in the Gulf region overall and New Orleans alike, ratings of the state and local governments' response are about as bad as they are for the federal government.

Still, while governments in general get poor marks, storm victims who had personal dealings with a variety of agencies and aid organizations give those groups, including the much-derided FEMA, more positive ratings.

Positive Ratings of Agencies (among those who dealt with them)
  Gulf New Orleans
National Guard/Army   95%   94%
Charities (not Red Cross)   91   90
Police/Fire   86   69
Red Cross   85   81
Insurance Cos.   72   50
FEMA   60   52

More than eight in 10 New Orleans residents personally dealt with FEMA, and slightly more than half of them say that it did an excellent or good job assisting them; FEMA got a 60 percent positive rating from Gulf Coast residents who dealt with the agency. But other agencies -- the National Guard, local emergency responders, the Red Cross and other charities -- all are rated much higher.

Race

There's a substantial racial component underlying the views of New Orleans residents, one that is not as stark in the rest of the affected counties. One reason is that blacks in New Orleans were more directly affected: More than two-thirds of New Orleans blacks say their area was severely damaged, compared with just over four in 10 whites there. A startling 96 percent of blacks say their homes were damaged, compared with 78 percent of whites. And 46 percent of blacks say a close friend or family member was killed as a result of the hurricane, compared with 29 percent of whites in the city. In the rest of the region, the differences between the races on these measures is narrower.

Katrina's Effect in New Orleans
  Whites Blacks
Area where live severely damaged   43%   68%
Primary residence damaged   78   96
Close friend/relative killed   29   46

By extension, blacks in New Orleans are 29 points more likely than whites there to say the hurricane has had a long-term negative impact on their health, 15 points more likely to say they haven't personally recovered and 11 points more likely to say it's hurt their emotional well-being. But they're no more likely to be angry or frustrated with the government's response.

Blacks in the city also are 14 points more likely than whites to say Katrina caused long-term damage to their personal finances. In addition to having lower incomes on average, blacks in the city who sustained property damage are more than twice as likely as whites to say their losses weren't at all insured.

Most blacks, furthermore, see a racial element in the government's response to the hurricane. In New Orleans, three in four blacks think race and poverty has affected the pace of the federal recovery program and six in 10 say recovery problems are an indication of racial inequality in this country.

Blacks in the Gulf Coast and nationally feel similarly; whites, in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and nationally, tend to differ. In New Orleans, 29 percent of whites think recovery problems are an indication of racial inequality; it's 16 percent among whites in the Gulf Coast region and 30 percent of whites nationally.

Perceived Racism in Recovery Effort
  Whites Blacks
Race/poverty affecting recovery   39%   74%
Problems indicate racial inequality   29   61

However, while blacks are more likely to see racism in the recovery efforts, they're no more critical than whites are in their personal dealings with FEMA. Forty-nine percent of blacks in New Orleans who dealt with FEMA say the agency did an excellent or good job assisting them; 51 percent of whites say the same. Similarly, blacks are about as likely as whites to rate the Red Cross' assistance positively.

In New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, ratings of the federal recovery effort are similar among blacks and whites. However, blacks nationally rate the post-Katrina recovery effort more negatively than whites do. Eight in 10 rate the federal government's response negatively, compared with two-thirds of whites. And more than six in 10 blacks are not confident the government can respond effectively to another disaster, compared with fewer than half of whites. Most of the difference though stems from the fact that blacks are twice as likely as whites to be Democrats.

Party ID

Overall, partisan differences are stronger on the national level than in the affected areas. More than eight in 10 Democrats and seven in 10 independents rate the federal government's hurricane recovery efforts negatively; fewer than four in 10 Republicans agree. And while three in four Republicans are confident the government can respond to another disaster, just a third of Democrats think so.

In the Gulf Coast, however, majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike rate the federal government's efforts negatively and the gap between the parties in confidence in the government to handle future disasters is far narrower.

Income

Income is a factor as well, but as not much as might be expected. Lower-income residents across the region are more likely to say Katrina has had a long-term negative impact on their finances; four in 10 people in households earning less than $50,000 say their losses were not insured and only 27 percent were fully insured.

Lower-income New Orleans residents are also more apt to say the situation has affected their personal health. But lower-income residents aren't significantly more likely to say their area was severely damaged by Katrina or that their own property was damaged.

By State

Residents of the hurricane-affected counties in Alabama and Mississippi give their state and local governments far higher marks for hurricane response than do Louisiana residents. They're also more likely than those in Louisiana to say federal recovery money has been well spent, and to be confident in the government's ability to respond to another disaster.

Ratings of State/Local Governments' Recovery Efforts
  Positive Negative
Alabama and Mississippi   65%   34%
Louisiana   28   70
New Orleans   15   84

At the state level, Mississippians are the most likely to say their area was damaged by the hurricane -- more than nine in 10 do (nearly four in 10 "severe"), compared with seven in 10 in Louisiana (about one in four "severe"), and to say their own property was damaged. But likely given what happened in New Orleans, Louisianans are the most worried about another hurricane hitting their area -- more than six in 10 are worried, compared with fewer than half in Mississippi.

Louisiana residents are also the most apt to say the response to the hurricane makes them feel angry and frustrated. In contrast, most of those in the affected parts of Alabama and Mississippi say they're hopeful about the government response; fewer than four in 10 Louisianans express the same.

Sex

Women in the Katrina-affected counties are more likely than men to say the hurricane adversely affected their long-term emotional well-being, 45 to 34 percent. Women in the Gulf are also more apt to be worried about another hurricane hitting their area (58 percent, vs. 47 percent of men) and to say that possibility has caused extra stress and anxiety in their life (46 percent, vs. 35 percent of men).

In New Orleans, women are likelier than men to be angry about the government's response to the hurricane. They're also much more apt than men to say they haven't yet personally recovered from the hurricane -- 82 percent, compared with 64 percent of men. Yet three in four women say the hurricane strengthened their trust in their fellow man, compared with six in 10 men.

Global Warming

Finally, this poll finds a slight shift nationally in views of whether the severity of recent hurricanes is linked to global climate change. Last year, Americans thought this was not the case, by a 54-39 percent margin. Today the public is more divided; 49 percent think recent severe hurricanes are just the kind of weather that happens from time to time, while 45 percent (up six points) think their severity is the result of climate change.

The percentages saying the severe weather likely results from global warming is up among both Democrats and independents; it's not significantly changed among Republicans.

Percentage Saying Severe Hurricanes Result from Global Warming
  Now 2005 Change
All   45%   39%   +6
Democrats   57   46   +11
Independents   49   42   +7
Republicans   27   24   +3

Methodology

This survey was conducted by telephone among random samples of 1,109 adults nationally, including an oversample of blacks for a total of 176, Aug. 10-20, 2006; 501 adults in the Gulf Coast, Aug. 16-20; and 300 adults in New Orleans, Aug. 14-20. The New Orleans sample was supplemented by random cell-phone as well as land-line interviews. Error margins are three percentage points for the national sample, 4.5 points for the Gulf Coast sample and six points in New Orleans. Sampling, field work and tabulation for the Gulf Coast and New Orleans samples by TNS of Horsham, Pa., and for the national sample by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

Click here for a detailed methodological statement.

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