A man who stayed for the storm, and what he saw after.
Clark, a journalist and the founder of Light of New Orleans Publishing, defied the compulsory evacuation of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached his beloved city, and he and a similarly contrarian group of French Quarter residents spent the ensuing weeks in the alternately nightmarish and summer camp-like ruins of the fabled Big Easy, struggling to restore some semblance of order to the chaotic uncertainty that surrounded them. Clark evokes the fear, confusion, despair and perverse exhilaration he and his fellow survivors experienced as they confronted the massive destruction and eerie emptiness left in Katrina’s wake, foraging for food, water and alcohol (lots and lots of alcohol—the daily consumption of these hardies would stun a rhinoceros). Clark recorded conversations with the people he encountered on his travels through his ruined home, and the stories he collects range from the horrific (rapes in refugee shelters, evacuees dying of dehydration stuck on the interstate, people hurling infants from the sewage-swamped Superdome) to the inspirational (many residents displayed heroic selflessness, distributing food, supplies and medical attention to those unable to fend for themselves). After a short period of “school’s out” giddiness, Clark’s reportage acquires a steady undercurrent of rage, directed at, among other things, the government’s tail-chasing, bureaucratically driven failure to take care of its citizens in a timely manner; the bully-boy tactics of some of the official personnel dispatched to maintain “order” in the devastation; the misinformation and confusion sown by the rapacious national news media; and the short-sighted environmental policies that left New Orleans vulnerable to such calamity in the first place. Powerful stuff, but the narrative becomes repetitive and somewhat numbing. Also, Clark has a predilection for pseudo-Kerouacian flights of poetic fancy, and his heavily dwelt-upon girlfriend troubles, which are undoubtedly important to him, but that pall in the face of profound destruction and loss.
An important and impassioned document of unimaginable tragedy—also a difficult and rather joyless read, but that’s probably appropriate.