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Disaster mythology: looting in New Orleans

Mark Constable (Chiswick, Australia)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 29 August 2008




The purpose of this paper is to examine the many reports of looting during the response operation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and assess these reports against literature which suggests that looting during natural disasters is a myth.


Media reports of looting from the days following Hurricane Katrina's landfall in New Orleans are compared with previously published evidence of disaster mythology. Questions are raised regarding the legitimacy of these reports and the role of such reports is assessed along with the role that media agencies play in disaster planning and response.


Media reports of looting in New Orleans appear to be mainly repeated second‐hand accounts. It is likely that there was in fact no looting in the traditional sense. The paper suggests what really happened in terms of theft and poses potential reasons as to the cause thereof. A clear definition of looting is suggested for emergency managers to use in order to separate acts of survival from pure criminal acts.


The paper highlights the dangers for emergency managers in believing common disaster myths. It is a timely reminder of the existence disaster mythology against a recent disaster in a developed country.



Constable, M. (2008), "Disaster mythology: looting in New Orleans", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 519-525.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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