Katrina: Words After the Storm

Wind slams into the tree in the front yard, and you pray that it won’t come crashing into the living room. The house shudders underneath the accumulating rain. Each drop is as thick as a rivet and hits just as painfully against your skin. And those are just the mildest of symptoms.

After Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Aug. 28, 2005, it decimated miles and miles along the Gulf Coast, uprooting countless lives in Mississippi and Louisiana. Yet here we are a decade later, mostly rebuilt and mostly unbroken. Here are a few great reads that remind us of the struggles and triumphs in the midst of one of America’s costliest storms.

“Five Days at Memorial” by Sheri Fink

(Crown Publishing, 2013, $27)

Many readers will remember journalist Sheri Fink’s Pulitzer Prize-winning article, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” when it first ran in The New York Times in 2009. The hurricane trapped thousands of patients inside New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center without power. In her book, Fink expounds on the events that led nurses to euthanize their patients and delves into questions of morality in the face of a disaster.

“Hurricane Katrina: The Mississippi Story” by James Patterson Smith

(University Press of Mississippi, 2012, $35)

When writing about Hurricane Katrina, many authors choose between telling the human stories and giving the staggering statistics behind the destruction. James Patterson Smith does both, tracking the storm from landfall to aftermath with nearly a decade of research and oral stories from Mississippians who lived it.

“Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward

(Bloomsbury, 2011, $16)

Author Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel tells a fictional tale that feels all too real. From page one, protagonist Esch is painted into a corner. She’s pregnant, penniless and struggling to make a life in an equally poor Mississippi town directly in the path of Katrina. At its core, “Salvage the Bones” is a story about banding together, one with which those who experienced the hurricane can certainly identify.

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

(Harper Perennial, 2007, $19)

Author Douglas Brinkley’s New York Times best-selling book isn’t just a recap of the widespread ruin that Katrina brought. It’s a reassessment. Brinkley lays out the various stages of the natural disaster, even breaking down the oft-ignored human error that made the hurricane all the more destructive. The book is at its absolute best, though, when Brinkley steps aside and lets the survivors tell their stories, providing a broader firsthand view of events than many writers have accomplished.

“Vanished Mississippi Gulf Coast” by Jim Fraiser

(Pelican, 2006, $25)

If you walked through the miles of debris on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, you’ve likely felt that heavy sense of loss that comes with knowing what should be there but finding it suddenly absent. It’s a feeling that Jim Fraiser and his co-photographer Rick Guy capture vividly in Fraiser’s book, “Vanished Mississippi Gulf Coast.” From once historic landmarks to beautiful modern homes ripped to their studs, Fraiser and Guy help to remind readers what we lost and why it matters.


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