Catastrophe and Change: Living in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Justine A. Von Arb, Olivet Nazarene University

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Abstract: This paper considers the catastrophic occurrence of Hurricane Katrina and investigates the social changes that resulted. The criteria for catastrophe are presented, including the disruption of normal life. The possibility that better preventative measures could have been instituted is explored, primarily with regard to governmental measures that failed due to a lack of an accurate perception of both the threat and the efficacy of the proposed solutions, and the immediate responses of the victims are noted. Although devastation ravaged the cities and the lives of those impacted by Hurricane Katrina, each day is an opportunity for the victims to adapt to the changes that were forced upon them.

Introduction: In an instant, lives can change. Not everyone is confronted with such a defining moment in his or her life, but for the one who is, that moment – whether positive or catastrophic – changes the trajectory of one’s life. In the wake of devastation, confusion, chaos, destruction, and powerlessness, life becomes a monotonous string of one day after the next – days in which the victims try to restore, or rebuild, and heal. Thus, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one survivor’s poignant comment displays the dichotomy of life before and after the catastrophic event: “I know what day it is. Every day is the day after the hurricane” (as cited in Osofsky, 2008). Life, instead of involving exciting dreams and lofty hopes, becomes a struggle to return to the normal, to the mundane. The survivors try, as much as they can, to live each day in a post-Katrina world in a way that matches the days before Katrina. Ultimately, this is futile. In the first days after Katrina, the devastation of the victims’ physical surroundings served as an inescapable reminder of the devastation that they had witnessed: “We saw not only huge signs blown down, but also sides of buildings blown away. The flooding and destruction from the winds of Hurricane Katrina made parts of the New Orleans metropolitan area look like a warzone” (Osofsky, 2008). Indeed, the physical destruction reminded the victims of the material losses that pervaded their every waking thought, but it also provided a metaphor for the lives of those affected. Just as the trees had been uprooted, just as the buildings had collapsed, just as a warzone had emerged from the widespread destruction – so, too, were their minds ravaged by the storms of doubt, confusion, and chaos. Their lives had been ripped apart, and the sense of security that they had tried so hard to establish had been destroyed in an instant. Just as Katrina ravaged the American southeast, Katrina ravaged the spirits of the people in affected regions: “We felt a part of our identity had been ripped from us” (Osofsky, 2008). It is necessary to consider the deeply emotional response of those who were impacted. Lives were changed in an instant, and the victims of Katrina live each day in the aftermath of catastrophe.

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