Not Just the Levees Broke: My Story During and After Hurricane Katrina

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Called "one of the rawest specimens of classic Nawlins spitfire you'll ever find" by Newsweek, and featured in Spike Lee's HBO documentary When the Levees Broke, Phyllis Montana-Leblanc gives an astounding and poignant account of how she and her husband lived through one of our nation's worst disasters, and continue to put their lives back together.

New Orleans Hurricane Katrina survivor Phyllis Leblanc reveals moment by moment the impending doom she and her family experienced ...

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Overview

Called "one of the rawest specimens of classic Nawlins spitfire you'll ever find" by Newsweek, and featured in Spike Lee's HBO documentary When the Levees Broke, Phyllis Montana-Leblanc gives an astounding and poignant account of how she and her husband lived through one of our nation's worst disasters, and continue to put their lives back together.

New Orleans Hurricane Katrina survivor Phyllis Leblanc reveals moment by moment the impending doom she and her family experienced during one of the greatest disasters in contemporary American history. The initial weather forecast, the public warnings from officials, and then the increasingly devastating developments — the winds and rain, the rising waters — Not Just the Levees Broke begs the question, What would you do in a life-and-death situation with your family and neighbors facing the ultimate test of character?

Not Just the Levees Broke is a portrayal of the human spirit at its best — the generosity of family, neighbors, and strangers; the depth of love that one can hold for another; the power to help and heal others.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Leblanc takes no prisoners and hides few emotions in this firsthand account of her experiences during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. As the skies darkened in late August, 2005, Leblanc's stomach was sinking: The weather forecasters were prevaricating, but "honestly, this time I have a feeling that something is about to go down in a serious-ass way." Leblanc was both cool-"I choose to hang on to who I am: a strong, black woman"-and not so cool, letting her anxiety and rising panic permeate the story of the storm: the roof collapsing, the foul, dark water flooding in, an early death looking at her wherever she turned. Then came the days after, harrowing in their own special way-full of thirst and hunger, bone-deep exhaustion and evacuation disappointments, as well as a punishing sense of abandonment and a bitter taste of racism in action. She became one of the "FEMA people," second-class treatment all the way. It was enough to give anyone emotional issues-the pharmacist filling anti-anxiety medications "is making serious bank off of us, and I'm guessing, the entire city of New Orleans since Katrina"-yet Leblanc is clear about what she went through, and brashly articulate: about greed, corruption, neglect and self-destructive behavior, enough so that Spike Lee featured her in his film When the Levees Broke. She also has plenty of disarming, street-smart advice for policymakers at every level about compassion, understanding, communication and resolution. A drama of crackling immediacy and with ringing outspokenness. Agents: Erin Malone and Jennifer Rudolph Walsh/William Morris Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416563464
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 8/19/2008
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Phyllis Montana-Leblanc is a resident of New Orleans, who has recently moved out of a FEMA trailer into her new home with her husband. She continues to put the pieces of her life back together.


Spike Lee is one of the most prominent and influential media figures today. His films include the critically acclaimed School Daze; Academy Award nominee Do the Right Thing; Malcolm X; Clockers; and 25th Hour. Born in Atlanta, Spike attended Morehouse College and NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned his master of fine arts degree in film production. Spike and his wife are the authors of Please, Baby, Please, their first picture book with Simon & Schuster. They live in New York City with their two children.

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Read an Excerpt

My husband and I start hearing about the hurricane and the chances of it hitting New Orleans on August 26, 2005. I call my sister Catherine and we decide that my husband, Ron, and I will go over to her house and bring her and her son Nicholas over to my mom's apartment so that we can be together. Catherine lived about a mile away from us in eastern New Orleans. Ironically, that's where our FEMA trailer is now located.

Mom's apartment was directly across from ours. She had moved there after a short stay with my sister Cheryl in Los Angeles. When Ron and I first walk out of the apartment, I look up at the sky. I notice an odd kind of gray color, but otherwise it's a normal day. I pause for a second in thought and then go about the business of getting my family.

I'm looking around as Ron is driving and I'm thinking, "What in the fuck is about to happen to us and this city?" I think this because the newscasters are saying that a huge storm could possibly happen but "it's not definite at this time."

This is why we're so confused and don't know whether to run for our lives or just "ride it out." We've had this happen before where the weather people tell us that the forecast is bad and then that turns out not to be the case. We are cautious kind of by nature, and wait to see what's up. But, honestly, this time I have a feeling that something is about to go down in a serious-ass way. We get to Catherine's home and start packing her truck.

My nephew Nicholas is running around without a care in the world. I envy him right about now. He has autism and is unaware of "real time." I know it sounds crazy, but in anxious moments like this, you do what you have to do to mentallyescape.

So, we're packing juices, clothes, Nicholas's backpacks that Catherine has just purchased for school, cans of food, extra bottles of water, Nicholas's school uniforms, and her favorite music that her late husband had taped for her. And just as we're ready to head back to our apartment complex, Catherine yells that she has to go back in the house to get her husband's pictures. All I can say to Ron is "Oh, my God, not now." She runs into the house and grabs the picture of their wedding and jumps into her truck. Her husband, Helmon Michael Gordon Jr., succumbed to liver cancer on September 4, 2004.

We ride back to the complex and all the time I'm thinking that all of this effort is for nothing. Ain't no damn hurricane gon' hit New Orleans, this is some bullshit! Every time they tell us there's a hurricane, people begin running for their lives and nothing happens. So we get to my mom's apartment. Once we situate Catherine and Nicholas, Ron and I go back to our place. I put the Weather Channel on and begin to cook and put food away in ziplock bags. The media are saying we need food for the two or three days when we may be without power.

I know people say that black folks love some chicken and I gotta say they are correct. I fry chicken, barbecue chicken, smother chicken, buffalo-wing some chicken. You name it, I did it to the chicken, okay? I fixed some egg and rice for Nicholas and some gravy and rice, because those are his favorite foods. I fill our tub up with water because the news is saying to "fill your tubs up with water, just in case you need to flush your toilets." Then I remember something that I used to see my mother do back in the '70s when there was a predicted hurricane. I put gray electrical tape on all of our windows so that if the wind breaks the windows, they won't shatter and cut anyone.

All the time I'm running around doing all of this, Ron is looking at me and not saying anything because he would upset me. Ron later told me that the way I was yelling and screaming he was thinking that I was going to have a mental breakdown or a heart attack. He'd already made up his mind to let me do what I wanted and that's why he only called my name every few minutes or so in hopes I'd calm down. I have to do what I have to do, and nothing is going to stop me. My anxiety is building by the minute because the media's starting to talk about what to do if water comes into your home and you have to go into your attic. They are recommending that we keep handy a hammer or something that could make a hole through the ceiling to your rooftop. I was like, "Oh, hell no, fuck this, this shit is about to be serious."

So, I begin to think, if it's going to be this serious, why in the hell is there no mandatory evacuation right now? What does the mayor have to say about that? Where is the governor? Why are they not telling us to get the hell out of town? So, I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, this is all for nothing. Don't worry, Phyllis, this is all going to pass us by just like it always does. Still, I prepare. Just in case.Copyright © 2008 by Phyllis Montana-Leblanc

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2008

    Good Stuff

    Book hasn't been out yet, so I obviously haven't read it, but I plan to. I just got done writing a research paper on 'When the Levees Broke' where Ms. LeBlanc is interviewed multiple times and she by far stands out in the film. I applaud her on her willingness to tell her story, so that others may know what exactly happened. Can't wait for the book to come out.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2008

    phyllis is amazing

    phyllis i applaud you for saying the things a lot of us may have not had the courage to say. I know you speak from the heart. I also never knew how much we had in common. trust me we will talk again. You painted a vivid picture of you & your fears. I saw it & felt it. I jus knew i was there. enjoy yr tour. i already told your this, but I am proud or you & please never change. beep beep holla :0

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2008

    Raw and eloquent

    I highly recommend this some times funny, sad, but always eloquent book by Phyllis Montana-Lablanc. It takes you head first in to Katrina and gives you an unblinking account of the iconvenience caused by the storm and the soul bending damage from those that dropped the ball on the rescue efforts. The glimpses in to Phyllis' past helps give even more weight to why her story of survival through the storm and it's aftermath are even more remarkable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2008

    Thank you Phyllis for standing up for us...

    and telling like it was and is!! I haven't read the book yet but I have ordered and will read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2008

    The voice of one

    I would like to thank Phyllis Montana-LaBlanc. She has really opened the eyes of the true meaning of Racism in this counrty, the racism of color and money. If your are poor and not White you are not worthy and I am sure that she tells ALL in her story. I will be spreading the word about the book to all races in my circle.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2008

    A reviewer

    Frist I'd like to thank Phyllis {for being brave and staying true to the game} I lost my best friend {my mother} The hardest and sad part is I was away in Alaska secureing their skies and passengers. So I can't wait to read this book, it may help me find peace.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Crude Narrative to a Tragic Disaster

    It's really a shame Ms Montana-LeBlanc has so little command of the English language. Her emotions were real and tortured but her expressions were offensive. By paragraph 3, the F word appeared in the text and continued, and continued, and continued. This is not a book I want to keep for posterity. In fact it is not a book I want to keep at all.

    I very much looked forward to reading this book because I live in a close suburb of New Orleans. I evacuated my house for Katrina with my elderly parents, my adult son, and 2 dogs. And yes, we all wondered if this would be the BIG ONE or if it would pass us by like the hurricanes of the past few years. It didn't. My house flooded as well as my parents' house. Yes, the response by the authorities was abominable. The anger, the frustration, and the disbelief were very real. The horror in the city was undeniable. There are no words to adequately describe it and profanity just doesn't do it for me.

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    Posted August 24, 2009

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    Posted March 9, 2009

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    Posted February 21, 2011

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