Posted on June 7, 2006

Hispanics Flock to Gulf Coast for Work Opportunities

Stephen Ohlemacher, AP, June 7, 2006

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita drove an estimated 450,000 people from their communities along the Gulf Coast last year, but in the storms’ wake, Hispanics moved in — perhaps 100,000 or more.

New government estimates show a region slammed by population losses four months after the storms. Orleans Parish in Louisiana lost 279,000 people, and nearby St. Bernard Parish lost 61,000, or 95 percent of its residents.

Hispanics, however, swept in by the tens of thousands, according to estimates released yesterday by the Census Bureau.

Jose Rios, a Mexican immigrant from Eagle Point, Texas, runs a food trailer near a spot in New Orleans where dozens of immigrants wait each morning to be picked up for a day’s work.

“Every time you look up on the roofs, the guys doing the hard work, they’re all Hispanic,” said Mr. Rios, 36.

Guillermo Meneses, spokesman for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, “Where you see work and the opportunity for work, you will see Latinos.”

The Census Bureau released population estimates yesterday for 117 counties and parishes along the Gulf Coast for the period before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and for Jan. 1, about four months afterward. The counties — all in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas — had been designated for hurricane assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The data showed 40 counties and parishes losing a total of 450,000 residents. The other 77 counties and parishes — most of them farther inland — added 200,000 people.