NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 16, 2006

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Houston earned a loving moniker among many of the evacuees who sought refuge there: the Big Heart, says Newsweek. This, after all, was the city that housed, fed and mended more than 150,000 survivors in a Herculean effort that won national acclaim. But six months after the evacuees arrived, the city's heart seems to be hardening.

Katrina's impact has been visceral in those communities that received tens of thousands of evacuees overnight. In cities stretching from Atlanta to San Antonio, good will has often given way to the crude reality of absorbing a traumatized and sometimes destitute population, says Newsweek:

  • In Baton Rouge, which added 100,000 people to a pre-Katrina population of 225,000, residents bemoan the loss of the city's small-town feel and worry that trailer-park settlements will become permanent fixtures of blight.
  • In Houston, public services are overwhelmed, city finances are strained and violent crime is on the rise; of 189 murders in the six months after the hurricane, 33 involved Katrina evacuees as either suspects or victims, according to Police Chief Harold Hurtt.
  • The Houston Independent School District has been flooded with 5,800 additional kids, out of 20,000 overall in area schools; that influx has forced it to spend an additional $180,000 per day of its own $1.3 billion annual budget -- only a fraction of which may be reimbursed by the federal government -- to educate new students.

All of this leaves Houston Mayor Bill White scrambling to keep the city's finances afloat. "This is going to create turmoil for many years to come," says Steve Radack of the Harris County Commission. But White responds that the city couldn't shut its doors to the desperate, dislocated people.

Source: Arian Campo-Flores, "Katrina's Latest Damage," Newsweek March 13, 2006.


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