Katrina, Mississippi by NancyKay Sullivan Wessman

Katrina, Mississippi

Voices from Ground Zero
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Wessman (You Can Fix the Fat from Childhood & Other Heart Disease Risks, Too, 2012) tells stories of people who helped save three Mississippi counties during Hurricane Katrina.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina proved to be the nation’s most destructive natural disaster. It progressed from a Category 1 hurricane when it first hit Florida to a Category 3 in Louisiana, and it made its third landfall in Mississippi. There, it flattened the counties of Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson, creating what Wessman calls a “ransacked reality” for thousands of displaced citizens. The book offers the intertwining tales of Emergency Operations Center commander Benjamin “Joe” Spraggins, health officer Robert Travnicek, and deputy sheriff Rupert Lacy, among others, as they prepared for Katrina’s arrival and later strove to organize a successful cleanup. Although the story of these three Mississippi counties made less news than New Orleans’ did, it’s nevertheless extremely harrowing. Citizens in crowded shelters had no working sewage system, no electricity, and no reliable communication networks. Despite the storm’s quick retreat back to the Gulf of Mexico, it scattered cargo containers of food (including shrimp and chicken) everywhere, and the meat rotted alongside corpses and human waste. The author tells how Travnicek managed to avoid further catastrophes, including rioting and widespread disease, by making bold decisions that frequently sidestepped bureaucracy and put him at odds with his boss, Brian Amy, the state’s director of public health. Overall, Wessman marshals a colossal amount of data, combining it with interview material to present portraits of heroism and dedication in the face of horror. Readers learn, for example, that those who refused to evacuate were instructed to write their names, addresses, and phone numbers on their chests in permanent marker to make potential corpse identification easier. The book also explains storm science in clear language; for instance, when “the water’s on the eastern side of the [hurricane’s] eyewall,” it’s much worse for residents because “it’s getting pushed inland.” Ultimately, this chronicle is most noteworthy for bringing the dogged efforts of Spraggins and others to a wider audience. Students of the era and fans of nature writing shouldn’t miss this inspiring narrative.

A scholarly landmark in the history of a major storm.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-936946-50-1
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Triton Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2016


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