「he aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was characterized by extensive reporting of looting, violence, shooting against rescuers, murder and rape. While some criminal acts did occur, such as the emptying of an entire Walmart, many reports were also exaggerated, inflated, or simply fabricated. Several news organizations went on to issue retractions.
There were reports of snipers taking potshots at rescue helicopters; these were false. Reports of gangs roving the city shooting police officers and survivors were also false, as only one policeman was shot in the aftermath of Katrina and no indictments were brought forward against the supposed gang members.
Many reported instances of “looting” were in fact stranded survivors scavenging necessary supplies such as food, water, clothing, and shelter. Some instances of looting were later found out to have been carried out by a small number of NOPD officers.
Civil disturbances in post-Hurricane Katrina were consistent with all existing research on disaster sociology, which concludes that “[post-disaster] widespread looting [is] a myth”, and were vastly overstated by the media, ultimately fueling a climate of suspicion and paranoia which greatly hampered rescue efforts and further worsened the conditions of the survivors.
Some initial reports of mass chaos, particularly in stories about the Superdome, were later found to be exaggerated or rumor. In the Superdome for example, the New Orleans sex crimes unit investigated every report of rape or atrocity and found only two verifiable incidents, both of sexual assault. The department head told reporters, “I think it was an urban myth. Any time you put 25,000 people under one roof, with no running water, no electricity and no information, stories get told.” Based on these reports, government officials expected hundreds of dead to be found in the Superdome, but instead found only six dead: four natural deaths, one drug overdose, and one suicide. In a case of reported sniper fire, the “sniper” turned out to be the relief valve of a gas tank popping every few minutes.
A Lincoln Town Car disabled by the flooding from Katrina.Additional acts of unrest occurred following the storm, particularly with the New Orleans Police Department. In the aftermath, a tourist asked a police officer for assistance, and got the response, “Go to hell, it’s every man for himself.” Also, one-third of New Orleans police officers deserted the city in the days before the storm, many of them escaping in their department-owned patrol cars. This added to the chaos by stretching law enforcement thin. Additionally, several NOPD officers were arrested weeks after Katrina for suspicion of vehicle theft.」