The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
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by Douglas Brinkley
Format: Hardcover, 736pp
Pub. Date: May 2006
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Review by Kam Williams
’One person not seen on the streets, at the Superdome, or on a rescue boat of any kind was Mayor Nagin. Since the storm had approached the Crescent City, Mayor Nagin had been cloistered at the Hyatt. From the getgo, he was terrified for his personal safety. And for good reason. Although he would put on a good public face, deep down he must have known just how delinquent he had been in preparing New Orleans for a major storm.
With no startable buses, the mayor was in the throes of some kind of meltdown on Tuesday, unleashing profanities at anybody within earshot and constantly sobbing. Frightened, Nagin refused to make City Hall a command center. He refused to give a pep talk to offer the evacuees both information and a morale boost. With a touch of guts he could have walked over to the Superdome and tried to calm the jittery crowd.
His primary post-storm initiative was to get a generator hooked-u, so he wouldn’t have to walk all those stairs. A timid Nagin had squandered a historic opportunity for a bullhorn moment.’
’Excerpted from The Great Deluge
Who's at fault for the failure of the government to come to the rescue of the victims of Hurricane Katrina stranded in New Orleans? There's been a ton of finger-pointing since the disaster unfolded, with Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, FEMA Director Michael Brown, President Bush and Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff each shouldering a share of the blame.
Now, Douglas Brinkley has attempted to sort it all out by painstakingly reconstructing all the events as they unfolded from the moment that the National Weather Service warned them all that there was a category four or five storm approaching the region, till September 3rd, when the cavalry finally arrived days after thousands of suddenly homeless citizens had already endured unnecessary suffering without food or water in blistering 90 degree heat.
Brinkley, a professor of history at Tulane University in New Orleans, recounts the blow-by-blow in The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This 700+ page tome reveals that there were many villains responsible for the mind-boggling mismanagement and utter neglect, but this shocking text indicts Nagin, Brown and Bush as among the most culpable.
First, Nagin committed the unpardonable sin of implementing an evacuation plan which only addressed the needs of the rich and big business, ignoring folks without the wherewithal to save themselves. Then, as the crisis worsened, the Mayor simply hid, coming apart at the seams, doing absolutely nothing.
Michael Brown was almost as despicable, described by the author as, ’doing so many interviews that people began to wonder which business he was in: disaster business or television programming. One press briefing each day would have been understandable, leaving him time to oversee the response.
Instead, Brown was available for one-on-one interviews with all of the major networks and cable news channels.’
Regarding the President, the book provides proof that he was fully briefed two days ahead of time of the possible magnitude of the tragedy, yet chose to not marshal any federal resources in anticipation. And while we also learn of cases of looting by both survivors and cops, there are for more tales of bravery and altruism, than selfishness here. As regrettable a story as The Great Deluge relates, at least the people of New Orleans now know that regardless of what the federal, state and local authorities might claim, the awful truth has been indelibly documented for posterity.
They never came.