The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

by Douglas Brinkley


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The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley

In the span of five violent hours on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed major Gulf Coast cities and flattened 150 miles of coastline. But it was only the first stage of a shocking triple tragedy. On the heels of one of the three strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States came the storm-surge flooding, which submerged a half-million homes—followed by the human tragedy of government mismanagement, which proved as cruel as the natural disaster itself.

In The Great Deluge, bestselling author Douglas Brinkley finds the true heroes of this unparalleled catastrophe, and lets the survivors tell their own stories, masterly allowing them to record the nightmare that was Katrina.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061148491
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/31/2007
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 177,137
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, the CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Audubon. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him “America’s new past master.” His recent Cronkite won the Sperber Prize for Best Book in Journalism and was a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. The Great Deluge won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He is a member of the Society of American Historians and the Council on Foreign Relations. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three children.

Read an Excerpt

The Great Deluge

Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
By Douglas Brinkley

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Douglas Brinkley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0061124230

Chapter One Ignoring the Inevitable

More than once, a society has been seen to give way before the wind which is let loose upon mankind; history is full of the shipwrecks of nations and empires; manners, customs, laws, religions -- and some fine day that unknown force, the hurricane, passes by and bears them all away.

-- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

No wind was blowing when forty-four-year-old Laura Maloney arrived at the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LSPCA) on Japonica Street in New Orleans's Ninth Ward. With the exception of some storefront windows plywooded-up and Mandich's Restaurant, which was closed, August 27 was, by and large, a fairly normal Saturday morning. In a building across the street from the Industrial Canal, Maloney's LSPCA staff had lots of work to do. Hurricane Katrina -- a possible Category 5 storm -- was headed toward New Orleans and the shelter had a total population of 263 stray pets, ranging from boxers to Heinz 57 mutts and Siamese cats. All of them had to be evacuated. "Each animal got its own digital picture shots," Maloney recalled. "We made sure each pet's paperwork was in order. And we IDed eachcollar; we had a tracking system, in case any animal got separated from their paperwork."1

Maloney could have been a fashion model, with her long blond hair, perfect white teeth, and eyes that implied an internal kindness. The only problem was that she didn't care for high fashion; her passion was animals. Raised in Maryland, Maloney had earned her undergraduate degree at West Virginia University and her MBA at Tulane University. She had worked at the Philadelphia Zoo and New York's Central Park Zoo before landing employment at the Aquarium of the Americas near the French Quarter. She loved everything about New Orleans, except the way stray animals weren't properly cared for. Her husband, Don Maloney, also an animal enthusiast, was general curator of the Audubon Zoo, where he took care of everything from apes to zebras and every species in the alphabet in between. "Animals were a big part of our lives," she recalled. "We shared a deep appreciation for them."

Back in 1997 they had gone to the LSPCA together to adopt what Laura called "the muttiest dog we could." They succeeded in their quest. Tucked away in the back of a kennel was a black-tan German shepherd mix inflicted with chronic tics, heartworm, and a hip crack from what they assumed was an automobile accident. "She was on death row," Laura recalled. "About to be put down, so we adopted her. We named her File."

Maloney was hooked. She quit her job as assistant to the president of Freeport-McMoran, a huge New Orleans-based mineral exploration company, and took over the LSPCA as executive director. Many of New Orleans's nursing homes may have been a shambles, and the housing projects that populated the city in a state of ghastly disrepair, but under her tutelage, the Louisiana SPCA was run with the spic-and-span efficiency of a Swiss hospital. She wouldn't have it any other way. That Saturday morning, Maloney, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, and her staff created an assembly-line approach to load all the animals into a pair of climate-controlled refrigerated trucks headed for Houston's SPCA on Portway Drive. Although the two animal shelters were independent agencies, they operated under the mission statement of the 140-year-old national organization: "Compassion and mercy for those who cannot speak for themselves."2

Transporting 263 dogs and cats was no small task, but there weren't any other options. "The Louisiana SPCA," according to its own stated policy, "evacuates its shelter for Category 3 hurricanes and above."3

At 5 A.M., the National Hurricane Center (NHC) had released an update from its headquarters in Miami. Advisory Number 16 on the tropical storm named Katrina affirmed that with sustained winds of 115 mph, the disturbance had already become a Category 3 hurricane and, moreover, that "some strengthening is forecast during the next twenty-four hours."4 Katrina was still about 350 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. It had ripped through Florida as a Category 1 hurricane two days before, leaving approximately 500,000 people without power. About eighteen inches of rain had fallen. Driving winds had torn doors off houses, bent trailers like horseshoes, sent sloops surfing onto front lawns, and chewed up industrial parks, coughing out plywood and shards. There were seven reported storm-related deaths from falling trees and other mishaps. Despite the horror, Floridians were hardened to hurricanes. In 2004 alone they had been hit with four of them. The state recovered quickly from Katrina's blow, with the lightning-fast help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which trucked in water and ice, hospital supplies, and even microclips to properly tag dead bodies. But just because Florida had recovered quite quickly didn't mean that Katrina, still growing in fury, was through with the American coast. "It could be," meteorologist Christopher Sisko told the New York Times, "an extremely dangerous storm."5 According to Advisory 16, in fact, forecasters expected Katrina to turn west-northwest, toward the city of New Orleans, during the weekend.

That was enough for the Louisiana SPCA, which brooked no discussion and no debate: with the announcement that a major hurricane was on the way, the preset plan went into motion. The two trucks arrived at the Japonica Street shelter. "We reached out to them and offered our shelter for the New Orleans animals," Kathy Boulte of the Houston SPCA recalled. "They arrived in Houston and later we all watched on television while the storm grew into a Category 5."6 Laura Maloney had overseen the evacuation of her four dogs, all of the stray pets, and fifteen staff members. "If we had stayed at Japonica Street," Maloney recalled, "we'd have all been goners."7

Twenty miles to the west of New Orleans, near the town of Taft in St. Charles Parish, the Waterford 3 nuclear plant also heeded Saturday's warning. Relying on its own advance . . .


Excerpted from The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley Copyright © 2006 by Douglas Brinkley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Cokie Roberts

“[A] riveting story”

Kathleen Blanco

“The first historical book that has researched the available record on Katrina and is the closest to actual fact.”

Graydon Carter

“Doug Brinkley’s chronicle of Hurricane Katrina has a keen sense of history and context”

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Great Deluge 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
exploitedpunk More than 1 year ago
I am a graduate of Tulane University and have had the unique privelege of having both lived in New Orleans for the last 5 "pre-Katrina" years of the city and also taken a class with Professor Brinkley. I was an official citizen of New Orleans until roughly 2 weeks before the hurricane struck, when I moved back to Texas after graduation, and to describe the feelings and emotions of watching such a horrific events unfold in the city you still call 'home' is almost impossible. The best I can do is to have you imagine that internal squeezing sensation you get whenever your heart gets broken, combined with the breathless feeling you get when you remember past regrets or disappointments, with a healthy dose of the stomach churning sensation that comes from witnessing horrific events (like the way you feel when you see an accident, or war on the news, or when you saw the twin towers fall). All of that combined is what it feels like to watch not just your home, but your neighbors homes, the supermarket where you bought groceries, the street corner you always passed on your jogs, an entire way of life... all get simply washed away and destroyed while the people with the power to help those in need looked and acted like they just didn't give a single damn about it. Professor Brinkley perfectly captures all of this and surrounds it with the most meticulously well-researched history of the buildup and aftermath of Katrina. There are many fantastic and moving books that have come out in the wake of Katrina (Chris Rose' '1 Dead In Attic' in particular), but this is by far the most comprehensive as it not only covers the history of the disaster and the federal response, but keeps the narrative with the people forced to endure while the world watched. This book will, and I do not exaggerate on this at all, make you angry, make you cry, and give you hope all at the same time. Because of years of neglect and lethal indifference from those in power, we almost lost our most unique city. Luckily, there is a spirit in New Orleans that is part of what makes the city so special, and despite everything, the city works every day to pull itself back up. This book should be required classroom reading for decades to come. Never forget. Re-Cover, Re-Build, Re-New Orleans
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is indeed an eye-opener. I'd already read several non-fiction novels about natural disasters prior to Hurricane Katrina. The best one was 'Rising Tide' about the flood of 1927 across the Mississippi Delta. As a Louisiana native, I'd read about Hurricanes Audrey, Camille, and Betsy. I'd been through two of those personally & survived the horrors of Hurricane Andrew. Despite that, I felt it necessary to keep myself on the edge & not become lazy in my storm prep efforts like so many others. We evacuated the day before the storm & got hit by it in Mississippi as a Cat 1 hurricane. We lost TV for about a day & a half. I needed to be filled in on what happened during that time period and Doug Brinkley delivered the info. There are so many things that are impressive about this book, so many stories that are told about survivors & the situations they endured. The problem I had with the author is that he is too preachy. His points are valid & on target -- however, redundancy is not a good thing in a work of non-fiction. The comparison for me has to be 'Rising Tide'. The author of that book gives the facts & reasons for the flood gives an accounting of the governmental faults that helped to make everything worse and leaves it to the reader to provide any external bias. He also gives a lot of nuance about the history of New Orleans & why it became the way it is. Very good book. In contrast, 'The Great Deluge' brings the nuance the pain the humility the suffering the tragedy in a way that makes you feel like you are there while you read it. Again, his bias is the only bad point. Not only did he drive his point home, he knocked down the foundation on which the house actually sat. By page 580, I'd had enough of the preaching & couldn't take any more. Like a good survivor, I read it through to the end. I must recommend this book because the truth about these horrific events should be told. Just be ready to be hit over the head with the injustices of the Bush administration, Homeland Security & that Nagin guy, over & over, & over, & over again. In some ways it is justifiable -- the people who suffered through this probably felt a lot worse than you will while you are reading this. They too needed someone to blame for their misery -- that's natural. The people who allowed this tragedy to persist should be held accountable -- that hasn't happened yet. It may still happen if you read this and it helps you make decisions about who should be running the country -- then it was worth it all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awsome book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first large recap of the disaster, published six months after the storm by the well known Tulane historian. A deeply flawed book, due to factual errors and the author¿s blatant political pronouncements. Brinkley¿s science is wrong, and he misrepresents what happened at locations other than the Superdome and Convention Center, such as Tulane Hospital and the Aquarium of the Americas. Brinkley supported Lt. Governor Landrieu against Mayor Nagin in the New Orleans mayoral race in the spring of 2006, and it colors his writing. Brinkley has nothing good to say about President Bush, FEMA, or Mayor Nagin, yet he paints Governor Blanco 'who cooperated with the book' in the most flattering light possible. Worse, he gives the news media a pass over their horrendous coverage. Still, the book is worth reading 'with a huge grain of salt' because of the extensive timeline offered and the stories of the people affected. His recounting of the heroic efforts of the US Coast Guard and the LA Wildlife & Fisheries personnel is worth the price of the book. Read it until a better one comes out.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Page after page (I received an advance copy) is Brinkley's own personal take on post-Katrina New Orleans. Where he was, what he saw, and who he didn't see. It's the last item, who Brinkley didn't see, that seems to have troubled him the most. Brinkley fashions what could have been a concrete, timely, well-reasoned overview of the 8 days after Katrina into a political diatribe against the failures of Ray Nagin as mayor of New Orleans. Brinkley widens his scope to Baton Rouge only to inlcude comments that are negative about Nagin from Governor Blanco and selected elected officials. Wait for a 'Katrina-aftermath' book with more focus and a book written by an author without a political ax to grind. Skip this one. At least wait for the New Orleans election to conclude before considering buying this 700-page attack.
disenchanted on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Interesting to read, but he (or his editor) made many grammatical errors. I had questions about his sources and thought that he needed to "triangulate" his research a bit more. Feels like he wrote the book too quickly -- and didn't take the time to verify, verify, verify.
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If you choose to read this book, do so with a jaundiced eye. The errors that I found, and verified with the people that were involved, are just egregious. Knowing the errors, makes me doubt that other "facts" are incorrect as well. I must question the veracity of the things I am not able to verify. How can the only untruths be the ones I was able to spot outright? I am not referring to the overwhelming political bias of the author, which is so blatant that it is hard to wade through, but facts about the Aquarium and physical locations of events that are not possible. Professor, if this is what passes as a "scholarly" tome, our universities are in deep trouble. Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware. Better yet, borrow it from the library and don't pay for this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
chocolate_thunder_onya More than 1 year ago
The first half of the first chapter is dry...but its a necessary part of the book b/c it tells of the founding of N.O. more than 300 years ago. I am finishing the 1st chapter and after reading about the politics and culture of the city--the distant past and leading up to Katrins--I am not surprised that the tragedy that was the aftermath of occurred. I cant wait to finish this book...thus far its well-written and very informative.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very detailed. It followed a lot of different stories from every side of the Katrina disaster. I was outraged by a lot of the things I read in this book; which i beleive was part of what the author wanted to convey. In all, i found it a very good read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very well written book, about the events,politics, and government resposne to the disaster in New Orleans.I really was moved by the story, heard the author in Boston discuss the writing and parts of the book. I grew up in the area in the northern part of the state and was moved by the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I already knew quite a bit of the information presented in Mr. Brinkley's book, but I enjoyed the process of reading the information in chronological order. I found myself sincerely shocked again by the lack of urgency to help the folks of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The book does give a sense of the citizen's level of stress, and it is disturbing. The stories of looting were terrible, and equally terrible, it is puzzling to understand how Nagin was relected mayor of New Orleans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Great Deluge was a great disappointment¿because it fails to deliver what was reasonably expected. The author's statement that he 'relied on newspaper reporters quite a bit' explains why the book reads more like a tedious recycle of what was typically available in the daily papers than a top historian's above-the-fray assessment of what happened, why it happened, and what could have happened. Merely reciting what happened without a lot more rigorous analysis is not very helpful. Two axioms quickly come to mind after reading The Great Deluge. Number one is 'The first report is always wrong.' That is what typically happens when 'scholarship' is served up 'fast out of the gates'¿as Brinkley put it. The real meat of the story should be the causes, not the excuses, for the abysmal failure of local and state government officials to plan ahead for a well-known threat widely regarded as inevitable. Solid disaster response planning necessarily begins at the local level, and yet it was not done. Why not? The only thing the City of New Orleans did was inadvertently provide real-world information on what follows incompetence of such magnitude. Theoretical models are less necessary now because post-Katrina New Orleans is a historical fact, not just disaster planning worst-case theory. Instead of placing the primary responsibility for the aftermath of Katrina squarely on the mayor and state officials, where it clearly belongs, Brinkley played local politics and tried to deflect much of the blame to federal officials¿as if they could magically make all of the needed help appear at the proper time and place without any of the necessary prior planning and coordination. To be sure, there were shortcomings and lessons learned at the federal level, but they were microscopic compared to years of neglect by New Orleans and Louisiana officials. After describing that neglect, it was then totally absurd for Brinkley to then turn around and let city and state officials off the hook by lamely claiming that 'right after the storm city and state leaders were doing their best with whatever they had' (p. 618). An honest assessment would say that was way too little, way too late. What is almost as unfathomable is the re-election of the Mayor Ray Nagin after Katrina. The other axiom?¿'You reap what you sow.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
I personally have heard different stories from my friends and of course I have my own story on experiences through Katrina. This book pretty much told stories exactly the same way my friends and I have experienced Katrina. This is the one book that doesnt just focus on New Orleans. I was so happy that someone decided to get the facts directly from people and from different parishes. I enjoyed this book. Well worth the money. I have recommended it to everyone I know. Thanks for such a great book on Katrina.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Douglas G. Brinkley's 'The Great Deluge' is a commendable analysis of Hurricane Katrina's impact on NOLA during the first week of its aftermath. Yet, Brinkley, the historian, has omitted maps to give visual detail to his reader, and he has omitted essential tables of resources available, deployed, refused. In my opinion, these are critical deficiencies in a scholarly work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you suffered through Katrina and her aftermath, you'll suffer anew when you read this book. It is a thoroughly bad piece of writing so full of factual errors and editorializing that one hesitates to call it history-or scholarship. To those of us who know New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and the actual people named (sometimes incorrectly) in this book, this is one more insult tossed our way, to be added to the harm done in the wake of this tragedy. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast deserve better.