This is a book I wouldn’t have turned to, left to my own devices, but it was a favorite of the crew of my favorite literary podcast, “Literary Disco” so I filed it away and planned to check it out via audio. Non-fiction is not my preferred genre, and for me is often a bit of a slog, so I figured the audio format would get me through it, and keep me honest and not skimming passages. As it was I cranked it up to a speedy 1.5 to move things along.
As a Louisiana native, Hurricane Katrina will always and forever strike a chord with me. Though non of my direct family members were too severely impacted by the storm and the breech of the levees, my grandmother’s house flooded (mostly due to water being pushed in by cars on the roads) and I had friends displaced for months. I will never forget the days of the storm, when the abundance of people trying to use cell phones meant no one could get through, and I was hysterical, not knowing what had happened to my family as I was living in south Arkansas at the time.
That was a pretty horrific experience, but it is absolutely nothing compared with the contents of this book. I wish I could have categorized this novel as fiction and horror because the truth of this story is more horrifying than fiction, but the fact of the matter is that this is non-fiction. This is the real story of real people. Whether it is the complete truth is left for the reader to interpret, and come to their own conclusions.
The levee breech sent water pouring through New Orleans, to include hospital’s, nursing homes, etc. And although others were forced to evacuate, hospitals and these homes were not required to leave under the mandatory evacuation orders so there were still sick people in the hospital, and the people who were supposed to take care of them. This is the story of what happened in the five days they were stranded, the tough choices medical professionals were forced to make and the people who died.
Misinformation, panic, and a lack of proper planning and support were all contributing factors to doctors hastening patients deaths, using drugs meant to ease pain. And they were hastening the deaths AS rescues were actively going on in the building. Whether or not they were justified in their actions is still a cause for debate, and for the reader to wrestle with the ethical and moral quandaries. Overall the first half of the book was pretty riveting, albeit confusing because there were so many people being discussed. The second half, where we learn about the legal proceedings after the fact, drags on a bit, and could have done with some editing. My only other complaint is that a few of the Louisiana names were mispronounced which made my eye twitch. (Robichaux should be pronounced “Ro-bi (i as in dinner)-show” not “Ro-bi-cho.” I feel better now that I have gotten that off of my chest.)
I recommend this book but it is something you will have to steel yourself to get through. And I will guess that you will never think about natural disasters the same way again.