WASHINGTON – Hurricane Rita smashed into a region that is wealthier, more mobile and much less densely populated than the one devastated by Hurricane Katrina (search).
Most of Rita's victims are by no means wealthy. But they are less likely to live in poverty, more likely to own a car, and less likely to be a member of a minority group than were Katrina's victims, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data.
Experts said the wealth and mobility of people in Rita's path — combined with a new sense of urgency following Katrina — led to a more thorough evacuation.
"They have cars," said Carnot Nelson, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida (search). "They have a way to leave. It's as simple as that."
Money and transportation were in short supply for many affected by Katrina.
In densely populated New Orleans (search), more than 27 percent of the households had no access to a vehicle, according to 2000 census data. The family median income, at $32,300, was nearly $20,000 below the national average.
Fred Medway, a psychology professor at the University of South Carolina, said Katrina's destruction provided incentive for people to flee Rita.
"They have seen what a hurricane can do," Medway said. "That's a very powerful motivator."
Rita made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana line, and worked its way north, bringing flood waters inland.
On the Texas side is Jefferson County, home to Port Arthur and Beaumont, two oil refining towns. To the north are Orange, Jasper and Newton counties.
On the Louisiana side is Calcasieu Parish, home to Lake Charles, and Beauregard Parish to the north.
The AP analysis of 2000 census data showed:
— A majority of residents in all six counties and parishes at the center of Rita's wrath are white. Jefferson County, where about 34 percent of the residents are black, has the largest minority population. New Orleans, by comparison, was 67 percent black.
— Rita's eye tracked over mostly rural areas. The most densely populated county hit by Rita was Jefferson, with 279 residents per square mile. Jasper, Newton and Beauregard all had fewer than 50 people per square mile.
Orleans Parish in Louisiana, home to New Orleans, had 2,684 residents per square mile.
— None of the counties had median family incomes above the national median of $50,000, but all had incomes above the median in New Orleans, which was $32,300.
— All six counties and parishes had higher poverty rates than the national average of 9.2 percent. But none came close the 24 percent of families in New Orleans living below the poverty level.
— Relatively few people in the six counties and parishes did not have access to a vehicle. About 10 percent of the households in tiny Newton County did not have a vehicle, the highest percentage among the counties. In New Orleans, 27 percent of the households did not have a car or truck.