Former New Orleans mayor Nagin presents his side of the Hurricane Katrina story.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as New Orleans struggled to rebuild itself nearly from scratch, there was a fair amount of finger-pointing in the press and among the public figures involved. Clearly someone had failed the city, 80% of which was covered in floodwater thanks to broken levees, and its most vulnerable residents, thousands of whom were forced to live in filthy, dangerous conditions in the Superdome stadium and the city’s convention center. The federal government was in charge of maintaining the now-useless levees. The Federal Emergency Management Agency didn’t realize the gravity of the situation at the time and failed to deliver much-needed supplies. The state government held back desperately needed National Guard troops. And, of course, there was the local government. Nagin, who was mayor when the storm hit, presents the argument that, since this disaster was so unprecedented in scope, there was no way the city could have adequately prepared. According to Nagin, given its limited resources and the extent of the damage, the city never had a chance to get ahead of the disaster, especially since help wasn’t exactly forthcoming from the outside, either. Nagin, whose prose is competent if not lyrical, describes a detached FEMA—which bought into early press reports that downplayed the disaster—a federal government too focused on saving face to provide any real help and a state government so interested in looking “tough” that it refused to let the Feds take charge of the recovery. Nagin provides key insight into several turning points in the unfolding disaster, including his famous, somewhat profane cry for help to a call-in radio show, which made those outside New Orleans realize the extent of the disaster for the first time. While any memoir written by a politician should be taken with copious amounts of salt, the author presents a strong case for himself and his staff, describing how they worked against impossible odds to save the city and fought petty politics that deprived them of much-needed outside assistance.
An affecting firsthand account of a mayor trying to pull his city back from the brink.