August 31, 2010; Source: Omaha World-Herald | In the rash of stories about conditions in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast five years after Katrina, there are numerous human interest stories about individuals and families among the 100,000 or so residents of New Orleans who left and apparently decided not to move back (initially, some 600,000 people from Greater New Orleans left after the storm).

This story about some of the estimated 3,000 Katrina refugees in Nebraska and Iowa contains an odd footnote.  The reporter says that that “representatives of several government and nonprofit agencies in Nebraska and Iowa said . . . that they had not tracked Katrina survivors since 2006 or 2007.”  Does anyone remember the highly publicized foundation grants of the six- and seven-figure variety that went to groups, usually national organizations, to develop sophisticated databases of the victims of Hurricane Katrina so that they could be funneled to the right kind of assistance and tracked so that they didn’t become lost and forgotten?

What happened to those databases?  Which nonprofits were charged with—or volunteered for—tracking the refugees of Katrina, who probably comprised the largest U.S. internal migration due to natural disasters or climactic changes since the Dustbowl treks of the 1930s?  The population of New Orleans is down hugely from its pre-Katrina levels.  There were lots of stories early on about people relocated to Houston, Shreveport, Dallas, Atlanta, and other communities, all the way to the West Coast.

Did the tracking stop a year or two later?  Are we finding that we do a better job of tracking overseas refugees than we do with the refugees in this country?  We’d love to hear from nonprofits in localities that received and welcomed Katrina refugees and kept up with how they fared in their new hometowns—or in their moves back to the Gulf Coast—and how the host communities did in assisting and supporting the people from the Katrina diaspora.—Rick Cohen