These are the most vulnerable communities in Louisiana's coastal parishes

Jun 28, 2017

Louisiana's land loss and vulnerability to storms threaten communities across the coast. But in addition to geographic challenges, the effects of the loss fall disproportionately on some groups, such as non-English speakers, those with low incomes and those whose livelihoods are tied to natural resources.

Researchers with The Water Institute of the Gulf identified coastal zone communities that might have a harder time adapting to or recovering from the slow-motion crisis, and they mapped those areas in a Social Vulnerability Index. "Social vulnerability" refers to the resilience of communities when confronted by external stresses on human health, stresses such as disease outbreaks or natural or human-caused disasters, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Diseases and Substances.

The Water Institute identified socially vulnerable communities by census block using a variety of data from the 2009-2013 American Community Survey and 2010 U.S. Census. Among the factors were percentages of population older than 65 or speaking little or no English, the percentage of disabled adults and the portion of the population living in poverty.

Here are some of the communities identified as most vulnerable.

Buras and Empire

Buras and Empire, in Plaquemines Parish, were identified as more at risk because of the number of residents who do not speak English. Buras is home to many fishers of Cambodian or Vietnamese ancestry.

Another factor making Buras and Empire socially vulnerable is their rural nature, as determined by their distance from a hospital, housing density, population density and the percentage of people living in mobile homes.

Several pockets of New Orleans, including parts of the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans East and Central City, were identified as socially vulnerable because of a higher percentage of residents living in poverty and residents working in natural resource-related industries such as petroleum extraction and fisheries. These communities also tended to have a larger percent of the population older than 64 or younger than 5.

Pockets of high social vulnerability, marked in red on the graphic above, were found throughout the city.


Garyville was identified as vulnerable because of the percentage of the population in poverty and the rural nature of the St. John the Baptist Parish community.


Killona, too, was identified as vulnerable because of the percent of the population in poverty and the rural nature of the St. Charles Parish community.

Lake Charles

In Calcasieu Parish, parts of Lake Charles tended to have a higher percentage of disabled residents and residents living in nursing homes.

Lutcher and Union

Lutcher and Union in St. James Parish were marked as socially vulnerable because they have a higher percentage of residents living in poverty and in rural areas.

Morgan City

In St. Mary Parish, Morgan City had a higher percentage of disabled residents, residents living in nursing homes and residents living in poverty.


In St. Charles Parish, Norco was identified as socially vulnerable because much of the population is 65 or older, or younger than 5. Norco was also identified as largely rural.


Some areas of Thibodaux were also identified as places where more of the population is older than 64 or younger than 5. The Lafourche Parish town also has a higher percentage of people living in poverty.

Why is social vulnerability important?

"Some communities are more severely impacted not just because of where they live but because of their ability to respond to the insults," said Beverly Wright, director of the the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University. "It’s worse for people who don’t have the means to overcome."

How was this information used?

Louisiana used The Water Institute's study to learn how socially vulnerable communities might be affected by projects in the state's coastal master plan. Officials determined that almost all these communities would benefit from the plan's projects.

Identifying socially vulnerable communities along the coast is necessary to building sustainability, Wright said. "If it’s not included, there’s not going to be an effort to fix it," she said, adding that sustainability is different than resilience. Resilience is the ability to survive once, she said; sustainability is adapting for long-term survival in the face of uncertainty.