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Refugee …

… it’s a seemingly simple word, but one that has taken on a new meaning since Katrina has come and gone.

How to identify the victims of Hurricane Katrina is the question facing the media. Some say refugee isn’t appropriate, some say it is.

Evacuee is also open to debate.



I decided to break out the dictionaries ” yes, multiple dictionaries ” and see what I could find.

Of course, multiple dictionaries means multiple definitions.



From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate edition ” to take refuge; one who flees, especially, a person who flees to a foreign country, or power to escape danger or persecution.

From Webster’s paperback edition ” one who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere.

From a newer Webster’s paperback ” one who flees for safety.

That sounds like what residents in Katrina’s path did.

Finally, the main dictionary used by journalists ” Webster’s New World College Dictionary. It’s definition of refugee ” a person who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere as in a time of war or of political or religious persecution.

Hmmm ” a little vague but I guess it still fits the parameters for Katrina victims.

For as long as I can remember, the term refugee has been linked with foreign countries. There was no debate about that. Now that a natural disaster has forced thousands to flee and seek refuge in other parts of the United States, the word refugee has become something associated with our country.

Words can be fun ” they can also be frustrating.

After a little debate within the newsroom, and some dictionary research, we decided that refugee works.

Whatever word people choose, it’s clear that the thousands who sought refuge elsewhere were all victims of Hurricane Katrina.

” Dale Shrull


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