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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

The Recovery Divide: Sociospatial Disaparities in Disaster Recovery from Hurricane Katrina along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast

PI: Susan L. Cutter, Geography, University of South Carolina 
Co-PIs: Jerry T. Mitchell, Geography, University of South Carolina 
Lynn Weber, Women’s Studies, University of South Carolina 
Mark M. Smith, History, University of South Carolina
Walter W. Piegorsch, Statistics, University of Arizona

Recovery from disaster is a social and physical process involving the restoration of communities and the natural environment. The differential impact of a hazard event coupled with the underlying social vulnerabilities of communities work in tandem to influence the rate and extent of recovery. For example, communities with few institutional and financial resources often experience more lengthy recovery periods when compared to more affluent communities. Similarly, there is ample social science evidence that gender, race, and class differences significantly influence disaster recovery patterns. While communities along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast shared the impact of Hurricane Katrina, their demographic and economic compositions vary considerably.

This project uses Hurricane Katrina and its impact on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast to understand those factors that influence the rate of recovery in the region, but more importantly, the potential inequalities in the process. The research combines baseline geographic data on the social, built environment and hazard vulnerability of the region, a historical narrative on past conditions that influence the current (pre-Katrina) settlement history, a statistical analysis of historical rates of settlement and demographic change in the region, and forecasts for the future trajectory of settlement and demographic change as well as its geographic footprint. Lastly, the project documents the recovery processes itself and the role of inequalities in shaping it through interviews with key individuals in selected case study communities. In this way, the research not only furthers our understanding of the pace of recovery and its geographic extent, but also the role of inequalities in the recovery process and those antecedent conditions that could give rise to a “recovery divide”.

Burton, C., J. T. Mitchell, S. L. Cutter, 2010. Evaluating post-Katrina recovery in Mississippi with repeat photography, Disasters: forthcoming.

Melton, G., M. Gall, J.T. Mitchell, and S.L. Cutter, 2010. "Fleeing from the hurricane’s wrath: Hurricane Katrina storm surge delineation: implications for future storm surge forecasts and warnings." Natural Hazards, 54(2): 519-536.

Stevenson, J.R., C.T. Emrich, J.T. Mitchell, and S.L. Cutter, 2010. "Using Building Permits to Monitor Disaster Recovery: A Spatio-Temporal Case Study of Coastal Mississippi Following Hurricane Katrina." Cartography and Geographic Information Science 37(1): 57-68.

Cutter, S. L. and M. M. Smith, 2009. "Fleeing from the hurricane’s wrath: Evacuation and the two Americas." Environment 51(2): 26-36.

Cutter, S. L., L. A. Johnson, C. Finch, and M. Berry, 2007. "The U.S. Hurricane Coast: Increasingly Vulnerable?" Environment 49(7): 8-20.


Funded by the National Science Foundation.