Hurricane Katrina has produced a diaspora of historic proportions. Not since the Dust Bowl of the 1930's or the end of the Civil War in the 1860's have so many Americans been on the move from a single event. Federal officials who are guiding the evacuation say 400,000 to upwards of one million people have been displaced from ruined homes, mainly in the New Orleans metropolitan area.Knowing something about the Dust Bowl, and about the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to northern industrial cities in the early part of the 20th Century, I find this fascinating. Hurricane Katrina - and the massive failure of the US government to serve and protect the country's cities - may result in a sea change in American culture.
Carrying the scraps of their lives in plastic trash bags, citizens of the drowned city of New Orleans landed in a strange new place a week ago and wondered where they were. The land was brown, and nearly everyone they saw was white.No one can predict what other changes will result from this diaspora. We can only speculate and observe.
"I'm still not sure where I am - what do they call this, the upper West or something?" said Shelvin Cooter, 30, one of 583 people relocated from New Orleans to a National Guard camp here on a sagebrush plateau south of Salt Lake City, 1,410 miles from home.
"We're getting shown a lot of love, but we're also getting a lot of stares like we're aliens or something," Mr. Cooter said. "Am I the only person out here with dreadlocks?"