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Cleaning up New Orleans: The impact of a missing population on disaster debris removal

Timothy Cook, BA

Abstract


Public participation in a disaster debris removal process is an important component to any large-scale rebuilding effort. How, then, does such an effort progress when nearly two-thirds of the affected community’s population does not come back to participate? The City of New Orleans faced just such a situation after Hurricane Katrina and the catastrophic flooding that followed. The debris removal task is the largest in US history, and very few residents returned to participate in the cleanup. This article provides a further understanding of the impact that New Orleans’ missing population had on the city’s cleanup process. This article asserts that without this city’s residents (or first filters), the enormous debris removal effort in New Orleans was further slowed and complicated. The first two sections provide background and context, identifying the size and scope of the disaster, the low residential return rate, and the role of public participation in previous large-scale debris removal efforts. The next three sections focus on the disaster debris itself, identifying specific ways in which the missing population further complicated New Orleans’ cleanup efforts with regard to (a) the duration of the debris removal process, (b) the volume of debris, and (c) the contamination of debris.The final section considers various measures that emergency planners and managers can take to facilitate “participatory repopulation,” thus mitigating the complications of a missing population.

Keywords


debris removal; Hurricane Katrina; New Orleans; public participation

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References


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5055/jem.2009.0009

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