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The Group Talks with Authors > Island in a Storm by Abby Sallenger

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message 1: by M (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments [image error]


message 2: by M (last edited Sep 10, 2010 12:36PM) (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments Here's my first question, Abby. What can we learn today from the people caught in a great hurricane in 1856?


message 3: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments A resort was constructed off the coast of Louisiana on a narrow strip of sand that did not rise higher than about five feet above the sea. Beautiful antebellum homes were built along the beach. Sugar planters and merchants from across south Louisiana came to this resort to enjoy the healthy and refreshing sea breezes and to bath in the seawater. One was an eighteen-year-old French Creole woman named Emma Mille, whose father owned a plantation in a small town near Baton Rouge and was a merchant in New Orleans.

During a great storm, every structure on the island was destroyed, except for one, and half the people died. ISLAND IN A STORM is about this island, called Isle Derniere or Last Island, and how it degraded, eroded.

What we can learn about this 1856 disaster is that the land on which they built was not static. Rather, it moved, degraded, exposing the people there, including Emma’s parents and six siblings, to a storm surge that completely submerged the island. After the storm, the survivors decided the low-lying island was too dangerous to rebuild. In the 150 years since, the island was never rebuilt.

Yet today, our response after a devastating storm is to not only to rebuild destroyed homes, but to rebuild them bigger more elaborately. The west end of Dauphin Island, Alabama, for instance, has been wiped out four times since 1979, and has been rebuilt every time. Like the people of Isle Derniere, we need to be far more careful about rebuilding on hazardous lands.

Island in a Storm


message 4: by Marieke (new)

Marieke Abby wrote The west end of Dauphin Island, Alabama, for instance, has been wiped out four times since 1979, and has been rebuilt every time. Like the people of Isle Derniere, we need to be far more careful about rebuilding on hazardous lands.

i think this is a difficult message to communicate. people become very emotionally attached to the places where they live, and i imagine this is even more the case in small, relatively isolated places like islands. the people you wrote about in your book, who died in 1856, were simply visiting that island. they may have liked it there, but it wasn't their home...how do you communicate to people that their home is in a dangerous place and that it actually doesn't make sense to rebuild? how can a community navigate that psychological barrier and come to terms with the idea that rebuilding doesn't make sense?


message 5: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments Communicating the hazards of building on low-lying barrier islands is difficult. First of all, not all barrier islands are equally hazardous. Some have relatively high elevations, like parts of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As a child, I spent summers on the Outer Banks in Southern Shores; our family home was set three quarters of a mile back from the beach on a sand dune over 45 feet tall. We were set back far enough, and high enough, to be relatively safe from inundation by waves and storm surge, the increase in sea level during storms caused mostly by the onshore push of the wind.

In contrast, the people of Isle Derniere had built their homes within a few hundred feet of the sea and on a beach that rose not much higher than a tabletop. They could stand on the beach next to their homes and have a great view of the Gulf of Mexico. They could then turn 180 degrees and have a great view of the bay behind the island. Terrain that can afford such beauty can also turn deadly. The 1856 storm surge has been estimated at about 15 feet; the entire island submerged during the storm as if it were a sand bar. A similar situation occurred on the Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston, Texas during 2008’s Hurricane Ike, when the land submerged and over one thousand homes were destroyed.

How can people come to terms with not rebuilding on hazardous lands? One way is through education. An objective of my book is to tell a true story of a hurricane disaster that will communicate as accurately as possible what can happen on a low lying barrier island during a great storm. It’s about the interesting cultural mix of characters there, and about how the land they lived on changed, putting them in harm’s way. It’s about an island that was cut in half during the storm and afterward continued to erode rapidly. In the 150 years since the storm, the island retreated landward over two thirds of a mile.


message 6: by Marieke (new)

Marieke I've noticed that your book has received attention from some major media--the new york times, c-span, etc...have you had an opportunity to talk to policy makers at all? i just read this short piece from Steve Nash in The New Repbulic and it's quite disconcerting.


message 7: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments Building a floodwall near the National Mall (as described in Nash’s piece) is indeed disconcerting, as are the prospects that floods on the lower Potomac may worsen in the future.

In my day job as a research oceanographer, I study the coastal impacts of extreme storms and lead a research group that provides information to policy makers and the public about the vulnerability of our coasts to change.

As an after-hours writer, I try to communicate to the public and policy makers as well, through the telling of intriguing true stories of people, the ocean, and the land. I try to educate readers through these stories, like that of Emma Mille, who lost her family during the 1856 storm and then afterward, on the island, found the love of her life. By following what happened to Emma and others as the storm raged, I try to bring the reader into the midst of the storm as if they were there. This involves weaving science into a great human story in ways that are hopefully interesting, engaging.


message 8: by M (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments ISLAND IN A STORM opens with a catastrophic epidemic in New Orleans that killed during the summer of 1853 nearly 10,000 people.
-How can a disaster--a deadly epidemic--contribute to another disaster--a major hurricane?


message 9: by Marieke (new)

Marieke Abby wrote: "Building a floodwall near the National Mall (as described in Nash’s piece) is indeed disconcerting, as are the prospects that floods on the lower Potomac may worsen in the future.

In my day job a..."


most definitely you are achieving your goals in conveying things in an interesting and engaging way! i'm actually stopped at Part 3 in your book...still digesting the ravages of the storm and the decisions that people made.

do you feel like Steve Nash does, that Congress isn't doing much? I think that Congress sometimes moves slowly, but I often feel that the media doesn't accurately capture what is actually going on in Congress. While Mr. Nash's article is really interesting, it is also pessimistic; but the fact that you are involved in a research group lessens that foreboding feeling for me. :D

I'm not a scientist, but I do like reading about science. i think you've done a good job of making the science of storms and coastal ecology very accessible. i've really enjoyed reading about the disagreements in the 19th century science community about how major storms develop and behave. i've also enjoyed learning about the history of storm classification.

having worked with archival material myself, your enjoyment of learning from those materials really comes through in your book.


message 10: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments Answer to question 8: - How can a disaster--a deadly epidemic--contribute to another disaster--a major hurricane?

Cities in the mid-19th century were dirty. In New Orleans, newspaper reports told of sewage standing in the streets and strewn carcasses of dead dogs. The cities were also disease ridden. Every summer in New Orleans, and other urban communities of Louisiana, there was the threat of yellow fever, a particularly gruesome disease (whose major symptom was black vomit from ingested blood.)

People with means evacuated the cities for the summer. They went to the northeast and also to the local coast, including the Gulf-front homes at a new resort on Isle Derniere. They thought it would be safe, but they were wrong. For some of these people, disease had put them in the path of a hurricane.


message 11: by M (last edited Sep 11, 2010 02:26PM) (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments Abby wrote: "A resort was constructed off the coast of Louisiana on a narrow strip of sand that did not rise higher than about five feet above the sea. Beautiful antebellum homes were built along the beach. Sug..."

Thanks for all these details, Abby. You wrote: " Like the people of Isle Derniere, we need to be far more careful about rebuilding on hazardous lands " You wrote, in a few pages of your book, a lot of meteorologic informations about how hurricanes work. This area of the world often knew and know extreme weather but this year, there were a lot of extreme weather events: from the flooding in Pakistan to droughts in Russia and landslides in China. These areas of the world weren't hazardous lands ( I'm talking here about extreme weather). Extreme weather events are putting lives in danger all around the world. A lot of scientists are taking about future people 's climatic migrations. What do you think about climate change and all these recent extreme weather disasters?


message 12: by M (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments Abby wrote: "Answer to question 8: - How can a disaster--a deadly epidemic--contribute to another disaster--a major hurricane?

Cities in the mid-19th century were dirty. In New Orleans, newspaper reports tol..."


" You wrote : One way is through education" I agree with you but which kind of knowledge and behaviors do we need to learn to face extreme weather events?


message 13: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments Answer to message 9 by Marieke...

Thanks Marieke for your kind comments about ISLAND IN A STORM. I have spent my career writing research papers for an audience of other research scientists. These have a set (and dry) format – what was your hypothesis; how did you test it; did your results affirm or deny it; the end. In my book I took a different approach of incorporating science as an integral part of a true and intriguing story. I found it challenging and fun.

In regard to your question: “do you feel like Steve Nash does, that Congress isn't doing much?”: I personally think the solution to the problem of overbuilding in hazardous coastal areas will be found at many levels -- from individual property owners through local, state and federal governments – not just the Congress.


message 14: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments Answer to Message 11 from Michelle: “What do you think about climate change and all these recent extreme weather disasters?”

Climate change is real. It has happened before and is going on now. We have much to be concerned about, much to prepare for. However, associating a single short-term weather event with long-term changes in climate is difficult, if not impossible.


message 15: by M (last edited Sep 11, 2010 02:12PM) (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments Abby wrote: "Answer to Message 11 from Michelle: “What do you think about climate change and all these recent extreme weather disasters?”

Climate change is real. It has happened before and is going on now. We ..."


The facts of climate change are devastatingly clear: temperature shifts, rainfall and snow in some parts of the world. In your opinion, how can we prepare us for?


message 16: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments Answer to Message 12: "which kind of knowledge and behaviors do we need to learn to face extreme weather events?"

In regard to extreme storms on barrier islands, I think we need to recognize areas that have suffered multiple disasters and have been rebuilt after each one. The Federal government has provided some funding to rebuild the infrastructure and homes, the latter through subsidized flood insurance.

In 1856, the government would not subsidize rebuilding Isle Derniere; rebuilding had to be funded by property owners and they chose not to. Today, federal subsidies are available for many barrier islands, and rebuilding after disasters is the usual result.


message 17: by M (last edited Sep 11, 2010 02:58PM) (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments Abby wrote: "Answer to Message 12: "which kind of knowledge and behaviors do we need to learn to face extreme weather events?"

In regard to extreme storms on barrier islands, I think we need to recognize areas..."


Thank you.
Island in a Storm is a survival, adventure tale with a lot of historical informations about the history of Louisiana in the mid-1800s.

You wrote : " By following what happened to Emma and others as the storm raged, I try to bring the reader into the midst of the storm as if they were there. This involves weaving science into a great human story in ways that are hopefully interesting, engaging "

Can you give us some details of Emma Mille's story?


message 18: by Abby (new)

Abby (abbysallenger) | 9 comments Answer for message 17: "Can you give us some details of Emma Mille's story?"

Emma’s father was born in France and she was born in Louisiana, making her French Creole. She traveled to Isle Derniere during the summer of 1856 with her family on a steamboat through the swamps and marshes of the Mississippi Delta. She was 18 years old and unmarried at a time when young women married as early as 14 years old. Her family’s Gulf-front home was destroyed during the storm and she was swept offshore. She survived by hanging onto floating lumber and spent many hours in huge waves. As the hurricane made landfall, the wind switched direction and drove her back to the island. One of her father’s slaves found her on the beach seriously injured. He carried her to where survivors were clustered. There, she met a man who would nurse her back to health and change the course of her life.


message 19: by M (last edited Sep 11, 2010 08:12PM) (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) | 337 comments Thank you Abby to tell us the story of Emma Mille. Thank you for the time you have spent with The Green group community. I have received your book last Friday. I'll enjoy to read your book with a new glance about Louisiana.
As we have decided it both, we close the talk about Island in a Storm by Abby Sallenger


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