Census data highlights travails of Katrina victims

Nearly 30,000 Hurricane Katrina victims were forced to live in five or more homes after the storm hit, Census data released Monday showed, and about the same number said their permanent living situation was still in flux.

It was the latest Census data release to fill in the gaps about what has happened to the region since floodwalls and levees protecting the city broke, causing massive flooding and killing more than 1,600 people after the storm hit Aug. 29, 2005.

About four out of every five residents said they evacuated the city for at least a couple of weeks and had to relocate about two times. Also, 83 percent said they stayed in a house or apartment at least once during their displacement and about 31 percent said they stayed in a hotel, motel or cruise ship.

The new data, based on surveys of 6,000 housing units in the second half of 2009, looked at the larger metropolitan area of New Orleans, made up of about 1.1 million people.

The new figures provide solid numbers to what has been a rich, but largely anecdotal, narrative of the Katrina displacement, said Allison Plyer, the deputy director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a nonprofit analyzing the Katrina recovery.

"No one has been able to track the folks who have been displaced," she said. "It's been quite a mystery."

Earlier this month, Census data showed that New Orleans is a much smaller city than it was before Katrina and much of the loss in population was among blacks who have been unwilling or unable to return. In 2000, there were about 323,000 blacks in New Orleans compared with about 206,870 in 2010.

Another big hit was to the number of children under 18, which dropped by 56,193, or 43 percent, since 2000, Census data show.

"The population is shifting away from the coastal areas and moving up river," Plyer said.

The Census data also showed that New Orleans is a city under robust reconstruction.

About 85 percent of homeowners said their houses were damaged by Katrina, with more than four in 10 saying the had major damage of $15,000 or more.

The Census found that about 82 percent of the 214,700 owner-occupied homes in the metro area have been fixed.

However, about 30,000 homeowners in the metro area did not get the help they needed to fix their homes, the Census reported. As of 2009, more than 65,000 housing units were still uninhabitable because of hurricane damage.

The report showed that homeowner's insurance was the main source of rebuilding money while about 43,000 housing units received grants under the federally funded Road Home program.

"Five years post storm, we are out of the quote 'recovery period,'" said Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans demographer.

From here on, he predicted the region would see a slower pace of repopulation and that increases would depend on the city's economy.