Disaster recovery expert on rebuilding 7 years after Katrina

August 20, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Friendships and knowing one's neighbors are key to the Hurricane Katrina communities successfully rebuilding since the 2005 disaster, says a Purdue University disaster recovery expert.

"Buildings may fall and streets may flood, but these social connections survive during these disasters," says Daniel P. Aldrich, an associate professor of political science and author of the new book "Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery." "The lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina is to stockpile friends, because people who survive and then return to rebuild their community after a disaster are more likely to do so because of their individual friendships, community connections and civic involvement."

Aldrich's book, which will be released later this month by the University of Chicago Press, looks at the role that friendships, community relationships and civic participation play when recovering from a disaster. His study of Hurricane Katrina specifically focuses on the areas of the Lower Ninth Ward and the Village de L'Est. Both areas have similar poverty levels, but the population of the Village de L'Est rebounded and the community rebuilt quickly because of the residents' social networks, Aldrich says.

"The Village de L'Est is a Vietnamese community strongly connected by its faith and strong relationships, and after people were evacuated to other states, church leaders drove to evacuation sites to meet with community members and share messages and photos between friends that had been dispersed," Aldrich says. "When they returned to their neighborhood it was easy for them to work as a group to petition for the electricity to be restored and begin rebuilding.

"Without these relationships, people are not as successful at coordinating efforts and activities to rebuild. The community loses its foundation."

These social networks are so powerful that they also can have negative effects by influencing the recovery of other areas. For example, some areas in New Orleans with higher civic participation and individual connections were able to mobilize to block temporary housing from being placed in their community.

"In this case, one group's social capital pushed unwanted facilities into the backyards of weaker communities," Aldrich says.

Aldrich also has studied disaster recovery and community rebuilding following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Tamil Nadu, the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Aldrich, who was a professor at Tulane University when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, credits a neighbor with encouraging his family to evacuate as the storm approached. He continues to work with colleagues at Louisiana State University to study disaster recovery after the hurricane, as well as after the April 2010 oil spill. Aldrich and his colleagues are observing high rates of depression, domestic violence and divorce as they interview area residents since the Gulf spill.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Daniel Aldrich, daniel.aldrich@gmail.com

Related websites:
Building Resilience

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