It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years since Katrina rolled through New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf. It also marked ten years since Rita left her mark on southwest Louisiana. The focus has always been on New Orleans, perhaps because of the storm that followed in Katrina’s wake.
In his new book, Katrina: After the Flood, journalist Gary Rivlin portrays the dysfunction, the politics, and the blatant racism that followed the storm. On assignment for The New York Times, Rivlin spent most of the year after Katrina living in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In that time, he put his attention on “the mess ahead.” This is reflective in his writing.
The book begins when Katrina landed in August of 2005. As I read just the first few chapters, I was struck by the level of inhumane decisions that were chosen. Based on what, exactly? Fear? Uncertainty? Racism? I felt sick reading the stories that open this book.
And perhaps that is the response that Rivlin wanted from his readers. A sense that this should not be happening anywhere, and especially not in the United States. As Rivlin builds his narrative from his own reporting, interviews, and the reporting of others, we begin to see the back story that reveals the real storm that became known as Katrina.
While citizens of New Orleans struggled to first get out of the city and then later return to the city, politicians were using the storm to collect their own set of sound bites. Who was to blame for the lack of response? New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin? FEMA Director Mike Brown? President George W. Bush? Vice President Dick Cheney?
Rivlin does not set out to provide an answer to this question. He does, however, lay out enough evidence in his storytelling for the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.
Ten years later, while politicians and others celebrate the rebuilding of New Orleans, McDonald sees the parts of New Orleans that have not yet been rebuilt. The parts that are largely African-American neighborhoods. The FEMA trailers are no longer lining the streets. The billions of dollars that flooded into the city is gone. But there is Alden McDonald and others like him who see that there is so much more to do.
And there is Gary Rivlin telling these stories.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.