It was a natural disaster-but magnified enormously by government's crushing incompetence in both preparation and response. The storm leveled the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but man-made problems destroyed New Orleans. The catastrophic flooding there should never have happened. Properly designed and constructed levees would have protected the city. Instead, they collapsed. Never in American history has a natural disaster been magnified so disastrously by the systemic failure of our government to protect and serve the people. The result is the national tragedy known forevermore as simply Katrina.
The question is, what do we do now?
The story begins innocently, with yet another little disturbance in the Caribbean, the next in a summer's growing storm count. But some scientists were already fearing the worst as tropical depression 12 strengthened into a hurricane, grew still more in the Gulf of Mexico, then took deadly aim at the most vulnerable coastal region in the United States: south Louisiana and the famed "city that care forgot," New Orleans.
Among those scientists was LSU disaster specialist and hurricane researcher Ivor van Heerden. For the last decade, he had used every available megaphone to warn of this catastrophe waiting to happen. On August 29, 2005, his worst fears became reality, and the natural disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi quickly evolved into national disgrace. Soon van Heerden became perhaps the most prominent independent voice in the national media pressing the administration, FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, everyone at all levels of government to act now.
The Storm is the ultimate inside story of the Katrina tragedy. In Louisiana, van Heerden is known as a scientist who tells it like it is. He knows why the levees failed to protect New Orleans. As a former coastal restoration chief for the state, he knows why the abused wetlands surrounding the city could not protect the levees. He knew how many people would be unwilling-or unable-to evacuate and how many homes were likely to be destroyed. And he has seen with his own eyes the politics responsible over the decades for the failure to plan for this completely predictable situation. He now unites this understanding with his firsthand, behind-the-scenes reporting, including the state's official investigation into the levee failures, which he led.
Van Heerden witnessed the desperation of first responders who were unable to talk with one another-and the heroism of those same responders, tirelessly working the waters of a flooded New Orleans to save thousands of lives. This is their story. It is the story of the families that escaped the flooding in Louisiana and the devastating storm surge on the Mississippi coastline-and it is told in memory of those 1,300 Americans who did not.
If the past is indeed prologue, "America's wetlands" is in terminal trouble, but they don't have to be. Van Heerden lays out the necessary course of action for building the levees and the protective wetlands that will guarantee "Cat 5" flood protection for New Orleans and the surrounding communities. Success depends only on civic will and political leadership. Van Heerden doesn't like to see science pushed to the sidelines, but that is what happened in Louisiana for decades. He is the only one to connect the dots between the bureaucrats, the politicians, the Corps of Engineers, and the tragic chain of events that culminated in the catastrophe that crippled, perhaps forever, a great American city.