Kennedy School Panel Dissects Hurricane Katrina Disaster

September 12, 2005
Doug Gavel

A New Orleans native student joined Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood and a panel of academic experts at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum last night in discussing the devastating impacts of Hurricane Katrina along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The hurricane virtually swallowed the city of New Orleans, killing hundreds and forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes and seek shelter. Tonya Cropper, PhD ’01, whose three sisters and three nieces were among the evacuees, reflected on the images of destitution and despair that the storm left behind. “Never be poor and never be powerless because that’s what I felt was their main crime,” she said.

Dean Ellwood addressed the class inequities which were illuminated by the hurricane and its aftermath.

“Poverty has been largely invisible over the past five or six years in national politics, but suddenly it has become visible again,” he said. “What became abundantly clear [with the hurricane] is that being poor is enormously precarious but also that we haven’t thought through what it means. What it means to be in government is to understand who the people are and what they need.”

The inability of multiple government agencies to effectively coordinate their response was a significant problem in New Orleans, according to Jeanne Shaheen, director of the Institute of Politics (IOP) and former governor of New Hampshire. “At all levels of government, at the local and the state and the federal, that command system broke down. People were not there to respond,” she said.

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Forum panelists image

From left to right: David Gergen, Tonya Cropper, Leonard Marcus, Jeanne Shaheen, Arnold Howitt, and David Ellwood