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September 17, 2015

Katrina: After the Flood

KatrinaKatrina: After the Flood

By: Gary Rivlin

Most of us were aghast ten years ago as we watched eighty percent of New Orleans go underwater when Hurricane Katrina struck and the levees failed.  We watched the failed federal and state response to the disaster as thousands were left stranded on the tops of their homes or at the Superdome.  The total damage was catastrophic with a price tag of over $150 billion dollars.  Despite the constant coverage on the networks, Gary Rivlin’s new book gives us the behind-the-scene stories that were absent during most television reports as well as what happened when the news crews left.

On the first few pages Rivlin tells of the standoff between the mostly African-American victims of the flood who were attempting to cross the Crescent City Connection bridge to escape the flooded city but were immediately accosted by police officers from the predominantly white suburb of Greta with their guns drawn.  There were tired and sick victims of the flood who needed assistance, but there were also those trying to protect what little they had after the flood. Next you have the petty disputes between the mayor of New Orleans and governor of Louisiana which slowed down aid to victims because of their animosity towards one another.  There’s Alden J. McDonald, president of the city’s largest black-owned bank who is trying to keep his business alive.  Yet, what happens if people want to withdraw money when his bank has no online presence after the flood?  Do you require people to pay their mortgage when their home is ten feet underwater?

In addition, with half of the city displaced because of the storm, those who were left began to devise a New Orleans that was “whiter and more affluent than before Katrina.”  There’s even the story of National Guardsmen overseeing the Superdome refreshing themselves with long gulps of water while parents with young children are suffering from extreme dehydration.  In many parts of the city electricity and garbage pickup were irregular a full year after the flood.  Those who were lucky had only 40% of their homes rebuilt a year after the Katrina.  The Lower Ninth Ward still didn’t have drinkable water on the one year anniversary.  New Orleans after the storm was a modern day Lord of the Flies.

Rivlin’s book is a story of rebuilding one of America’s great cities.  How do you rebuild a city whose police, fire stations and schools have been flooded?  Flooding had ruined sewer and water systems as well as the electrical system.  Roads, gas lines, and pipes were all destroyed.  Most importantly, how to do you rebuild when there’s a myriad of views of what the city should look like in the future?  This is the story of what happened in the last ten years as a gutted city seeks to rebuild when everything was lost.

Review By: Brad Howell