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Sunday, September 25, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Differing demographics

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Hurricane Rita smashed into a region that is wealthier, more mobile and much less densely populated than the one devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Most of Rita's victims are by no means wealthy. But they are less likely to live in poverty, more likely to own a car, and less likely to be a member of a minority group than were Katrina's victims, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data.

Experts said the income level and mobility of people in Rita's path — combined with a new sense of urgency after Katrina — led to a more thorough evacuation.

"They have cars," said Carnot Nelson, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida. "They have a way to leave. It's as simple as that."

Money and transportation were in short supply for many affected by Katrina.

In densely populated New Orleans, more than 27 percent of households had no access to a vehicle, according to 2000 census data. The family median income, at $32,300, was nearly $20,000 less than the national average.

Fred Medway, a psychology professor at the University of South Carolina, said Katrina's destruction provided incentive for people to flee Rita.

"They have seen what a hurricane can do," Medway said. "That's a very powerful motivator."

Rita made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana line and worked its way north, bringing flood waters inland.

On the Texas side is Jefferson County, home to Port Arthur and Beaumont, two oil-refining towns. To the north are Orange, Jasper and Newton counties.

On the Louisiana side are Calcasieu Parish, home to Lake Charles, and Beauregard Parish.

The AP analysis of 2000 census data showed:

• A majority of residents in all six counties and parishes at the center of Rita's wrath are white. Jefferson County, where about 34 percent of residents are black, has the largest minority population. New Orleans, by comparison, was 67 percent black.

• Rita's eye tracked over mostly rural areas. The most densely populated county hit by Rita was Jefferson, with 279 residents per square mile. Jasper, Newton and Beauregard each had fewer than 50 people per square mile.

Louisiana's Orleans Parish, home to New Orleans, had 2,684 residents per square mile.

• None of the counties had median family incomes above the national median of $50,000, but all had higher median incomes than New Orleans did.

• All six counties and parishes had higher poverty rates than the national average of 9.2 percent. But none came close to the 24 percent of families in New Orleans living below the poverty level.

• Relatively few people in the six counties and parishes did not have access to a vehicle. About 10 percent of Newton County households did not have a vehicle, the highest percentage among the counties.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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