When Neighborhoods Are Destroyed by Disaster: Relocate or Return and Rebuild?


Bioecological model, Ecological frameworks, Natural disaster, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Catastrophic loss, Long-term recovery


Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a category 3 storm on August 29, 2005. Over a million residents of the US Gulf Coast evacuated in anticipation of this epic storm. For those directly affected, displacement from hurricane-ravaged homes and neighborhoods forced a fundamental question: Do we relocate away from the coast or return to rebuild in an area devastated by disaster? In this chapter, we examine the psychosocial consequences of environmental destruction for former and current coastal residents of south Louisiana ranging from 18 to 89 years of age. An ecological systems perspective drawn from the disaster research literature is reviewed briefly to provide a conceptual framework for addressing the psychosocial consequences of environmental loss. Next, we present findings from a mixed method study on post-Katrina resilience and long-term recovery. All participants experienced catastrophic hurricane damage and displacement from south Louisiana coastal parishes (counties) in 2005. Two groups were compared and contrasted: former coastal residents who relocated permanently to non-coastal communities and current residents who returned to rebuild their homes and communities. We describe the sample, interview procedures, coding process, and qualitative analyses. Among the major findings are two emergent themes which we present here: (1) There’s No Going Back: The “Old Normal” is Gone Forever and (2) You Don’t Understand Unless You Were There. Implications of these findings for adjustment to new environmental circumstances after disaster are discussed.

Original Publication Citation

Kytola, K. L., Cherry, K. E., Marks, L. D., & Hatch, T. G. (2015). When neighborhoods are destroyed by disaster: Relocate or return and rebuild? In K. E. Cherry (ed.), Traumatic stress and long-term recovery: Coping with disasters and other negative life events (pp. 211-230). New York: Springer.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Traumatic Stress and Long-Term Recovery




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Adjunct Faculty