If you ever wondered what could have possibly gone wrong to create the conditions that occurred after HurrSpectacular book about a cataclysmic event.
If you ever wondered what could have possibly gone wrong to create the conditions that occurred after Hurricane Katrina, this book is a must read. Brinkley gives a wonderful introduction to the area, people and places then follows the various stories and events through the week following the disaster. Feel free to feel horrified by the living nightmare people encountered in the aftermath. The treatment of the poor, elderly, handicapped and ill reveals more about America (and the eponymous dream that is so often a nightmare) than a million sociological studies.
At 600+ pages it's a dense and thorough read, though the first thing the author does is apologize for not as fully covering the Gulf Coast they way he would have liked. While he tries not to assign blame, he points out the numerous mistakes made by those in charge, and FEMA and George Bush do not come out looking well. And while he criticizes many people, he also praises where praise is deserved. This means that he refuses to name a bad guy, which is refreshing.
The heroes and heroines of Katrina are mostly individuals working on their own or in groups outside of established government or service agencies. The hundreds of unnamed rescuers, along with Louisiana Fish and Wildlife and the National Guard, deserve the thanks of every American. That our neighbors are our saviors in the time of disaster should be a lesson to us all.
The lack of emergency plan in New Orleans (and the fact that NYC lacked one until September 11th, 2001) and the monumental mistakes made without one should make everyone start writing letters to their mayors immediately. Perhaps the most terrifying of the mistakes were those inflicted by members of the government attempting to avoid lawsuits or rigidly follow guidelines that were preventing attempts to get aid to people. The number of times throughout the book that FEMA turned down help or materials, or even turned back trucks bringing in desperately needed supplies reminded me how often small minds act only in their own interest.
A FEMA worker who was part of the recovery effort recommended the book to my boyfriend and described it as very accurate. The author seems to have interviewed hundreds of people, not to mention compiling upwards of a thousand news reports and articles. The scholarship involved is impressive, not to mention the fact that the author, who became an ad hoc rescuer, never even mentions his own experiences during Katrina. Though he was "on the ground" this is not his memoir. In fact, I did not know how involved Brinkley was with the rescue operations until I saw him interviewed in Spike Lee's astonishing When the Levees Broke.
I have to admit that I'm glad I've finished, as it means I won't be sobbing on the subway anymore. As they say in the newspaper business, read it and weep, but this time it's actually a warning. ...more