Hurricane Katrina: The Unforgettable Storm.

Residents bewailed the Bush government's tardiness.

Was "Nero" Fiddling While a City Drowned?
Was "Nero" Fiddling While a City Drowned?

With a nod to James Lee Burke

 These are two dates in the last ten years burned into the minds of Americans and many throughout the world. The first is September, 11, 2001, marking the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon; the second, Aug 28-30, 2005, the first days after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and devastated New Orleans and many surrounding boroughs and coastal areas.

When I read accounts of this awful disaster, it is hard to believe the extremes of bravery and community spirit on the one hand, and the official blundering and criminal activity of many of the residents on the other.

The problem was you had to be there to really appreciate the scale of the flooding and how quickly it all happened. The storm surge pushed along in front of Katrina drove ocean water up the "Mr Go" (the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet), into New Orleans and the Intercoastal Canal. A total of 63 inadequate levies burst like bombs around Lake Pontchartrain, (Bush had cut funding to update them just months previously).

While people slept in their bedrooms, some two stories above the street, the flood water entered like some hellish, stinking River Styx, and rose to their ceilings, even into attics and covering roof-tops, pelted with heavy rain and buffeted by heavy winds as Katrina passed over to the east of the area.

The eastern areas of the city became like Venice with boats feverishly trying to rescue people swimming in the muck, clinging to trees, or what remained of their houses above water.

Some of the outstanding heroes of the hour were the coastguards whirling in, time after time, with helicopters in frightful conditions, including, say many observers, being shot-at with automatic rifles, reminding some older pilots of when they served in Vietnam.

Many police agency personnel showed outstanding courage as well. But roughly one third of the New Orleans police had left the area before the hurricane struck and there were also reports of some rogue cops being involved in looting, along with thousands of the poor and amoral who saw the Hurricane as a sort of Cargo Cult reward.

Coincidentally, the loss of life was almost the same as that of the World Trade Centre attack - over 1800- with a further two hundred still missing. People were still living in temporary housing in 2010, principally from badly hit areas along the Mississippi coast.

At this point, let me tell you of a book many will have no doubt read. It is a work of fiction by local author, James Lee Burke, except where details of the Hurricane and flooding are concerned, which are factual and some of the most harrowing and graphic I have read. I think Burke is the best living author in this genre (crime/detective) in the world by a country mile. And the book, "The Tin Roof Blowdown," is his best which will join the annals of great American classic literature.

Even if this genre doesn't normally appeal to you, you should not miss this great novel for its factual treatment of the disaster; far more lucid and spellbinding than were any press reports I have read. I absolutely guarantee you will not be able to put the 444- page paperback down until the finale: not just for the details of the Flood, but for the exciting adventures of Burke's regular protagonists, detective Dave Robicheaux and PI Clete Purcell.

I will not attempt to recreate the horror of this disaster in this simple Hub article. It has been done many times; whole books have been written about Katrina's work and the aftermath. As I have said, if you want to read the best account I have found, buy Burke's book, which has been around for 4 years now and there are many good used copies on Amazon; in charity shops, flea-markets and used book shops.

I have not been to New Orleans since the disaster and have no intention of doing so, in case it destroys my first perceptions and great time I had there in the 1980's. Cities may be rebuilt after wars and natural disasters, but something is often missing. It was in Berlin and also - to a great degree - in London. In the case of New Orleans, I think it may be a loss in the spirit of the people engendered by all the antisocial crime; lack of urgent official help and the lingering effects of the damage. And the feeling now that they are in a helpless position should the heavens single them out again for a repeat of Katrina, and one that may be much worse, (after all, Katrina was downgraded from a category 5 to a 3 just before it struck, and its effects were caused by the rain and storm surge, as the main body of the Hurricane missed New Orleans proper).

People still speculate and shudder today about how much worse the disaster could have been if a Cat. 5 - or worse - storm blew straight in from the Gulf.

All this makes New Orleans not quite the fun place to be it once was...too many creaks and bangs in the night have residents on guard expecting the worst again.


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Comments 25 comments

Jaymeyaroch profile image

Jaymeyaroch 5 years ago from Somewhere between today and yesterday.

This was a beautiful hub. I have family that suffered in Katrina, and they were in Florida's panhandle. The areas that I remember as a child now look like something from a horror movie about the end of the world.

Voted up and thank you for this heart-felt account.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I view it this way...if it's below sea level, don't rebuild it because sooner or later, it will happen again.

diogenese 5 years ago

Yes. It'a mainly the world's poor who are forced to live in risky areas. In danger from hurricane effect, mud slides, earthquakes and the rest. Mankind repeates his mistakes and never looks far enough ahead. I view all coastal areas bounding the Pacific and Atlantic nervously after the tsunamis and big storms. Bob

diogenese 5 years ago

Hi Jamey: I have friends in Florida, too, mainly on St George Island and I always worry when they bravely have their hurricane parties, and "ain't no one gonna leave" mentality. The world seems to have got more dangerous lately...Bob

denise mohan profile image

denise mohan 5 years ago from California

Thanks for writing this hub Bob! No one should ever forget or realize what we really do (or don't do) to our poor. I went to Katrina because I felt that I had no choice. I drove through on the way to Tennessee to take my daughter to Knoxville for her second year of school. We stopped for 2 nights and missed the storm by 9 days. I just felt so close to the people that I took up a collection at work, got a donation of a van from a car dealership, picked up a friend and drove all the way to Baton Rouge, La. from San Diego. Most of the caravans coming over from California stopped in Texas to drop off their goods. I wanted to get as close as possible to the people not the distributors. We almost didn't get in because the head Red Cross volunteer wasn't in a very good mood. He turned us away and we were told not to sleep in our van because it was a very bad neighborhood and there were no hotels vacant. By Gods good grace we got a flat tire right in front of The River Center where many of the victims were taken in. The volunteers came out and apoligized for their boss not allowing us to drop off our goods or spend the night with the other volunteers. They snuck us in thru the back and we were escorted by the National Gaurd. The Red Cross people were so worn out and sad that they cried when they began to tell us stories. So many Red Cross Volunteers had signed up and recieved R.C. training, from all over the country but were never called to replace them or give them breaks. It was an aweful mess and I will never forget my encounters and experiences because these events have changed my life.

diogenese 5 years ago

Waht a wonderful comment outlining your story of the disaster. I am glad people will read this, too, after reading the article, as I was in no way as well placed to write it as you were. Have you read Burke's book, by the way? Although you may want to forget the horror of the (two) hurricanes which struck within days of one another...Bob

BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

I think the 'blunders' are the American government's way of cutting down on the population. With resources dwindling, the poor, sick and old must 'go first' according to politicians and big businesses. People here may scoff but it sure looks that way to me. Great hub concerning the gross lack of leadership America has been putting up with in recent years.

diogenese 5 years ago

Yes. I so much was said by a local politician. He said, roughly, "Well, the hurricane has sorted the problem of the low cost housing without us having to pay a cent." The victims were nearly all poor blacks, usual...Bob

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Good hub on such a tragedy.

Thanks for sharing.

Take care


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Nice hub.thanks

diogenese 5 years ago

Thanks. It may be a bit old hat for US citizens, but I was moved by Burke's account...Bob

Garnetbird 5 years ago

I spent a dangerous week in New Orleans prior to Katrina, years ago and was somewhat shocked by the shabbiness, horrible police ethics, the racial hatred and the general aura of danger. I was told by a lifetime resident not to visit the above ground cemetary as tourists often get jumped there and/or kidnapped. Good Hub.

diogenese 5 years ago

Many trace the beginnings of serious problems in New Orleans to the rise of the crack cocaine business and use. There was crime before, but not violent and homicidal like now. Bob

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Great hub, Bob. My son was there two years ago and was shocked it still looks a devasted area. People in England collected £32million which is an enormous sum and could have almost painted the streets in New Orleans with gold. What happened to that money. At least have the decency and built good quality houses. That is what the money was given for and should have been used. People were given their last penny to help. It is crime to take this money. Also the people of New Orleans think that nobody cares or cared. It is not only with that disaster it happened with every disaster. People happy to give and those gangsters have the nerve to steal it. Every time.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Hanna: 32 million sounds like a lot, and it is, but this disaster runs to billions to sort it out, which still hasn't been done. Please read "Tin Roof Blowdown," it's an eye opener...Bob

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Thank you, Bob, for putting me right.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Hanna: I think the whole point there is it should never be used for housing again. That whole delta is subject to flooding at any time and when a tropical storm comes along, the storm surge can be unstoppable. Bob

denise mohan profile image

denise mohan 5 years ago from California

I will read the book, thnx Bob.

diogenese 5 years ago

Tell me how you liked it, Denise...Bob

Shinkicker profile image

Shinkicker 4 years ago from Scotland

Unbelievable that helicopter rescue crews were shot at. Disasters like that bring out the worst and the best in people.

Including the President

Cheers for an interesting Hub Bob

ME pretty 4 years ago


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Me pretty. Perhaps people who know how to spell would like to read it; brain-dead people and myself don't do well together.

I think you meant "seriously" Did you miss a word from your avatar..."stupid," perhaps?


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi shinkicker. Yes, the best and worst. This was one of the worst outcomes of any disaster I know of. And it's still a mess out there. I guess building near that "killer river" is folly, espacially as much of the outer city is below sea level.


stars439 profile image

stars439 4 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

I sent Joann, and Becky away to the safety of a good solid brick building home with relatives. I did not have the heart to leave our one eyed cat Whitey, and our other animals we loved behind. The storm hit our mobile home. The weather man said mobile homes would be our coffins. Joann, and Becky had everything they needed, and were O.K.

The electric went out in our mobile home. I held my blind cat in my arms as Whitey looked up with his neck stretched as the wind whistled around us. I said, " Don't worry sugar, you'll be o.k. with me ."

With all my horrid health conditions I became extremely delirious , and large black circles were forming on my back, and I felt like I was floating in the air when the heat waves came. My cat, our cats started trying to breath with their mouths open the poor little souls . Nothing worked. The water was out because the pumps, and electric was out, and it was boiling hot. I sat on a folding chair looking after our animals, and floating deliriously as my arms, and hands were trying to feel the sky for what seemed like days. Joann came back to early. I told her to go away, and leave us because I did not want her in hell with us, and to go back where she was. Kind people who could afford gasoline had ice which was gold. I swear to Christ in Heaven that ice was Gold. Joann wiped little Whitey's hot face,and body, and wiped mine with a cold rag which seemed to give us life again, and she gave us life again. I knew people would die , and they did. So many suffered traumatized for many years. Katrina took a piece part of our income when it took our gift shop. But we got off easy compared to many poor souls. One New Orleans cop killed himself. He could not take what the animals went threw. I guess he loved animals .

It would be easy to write scores of chapters on what that hurricane did. My sweet cat Whitey slept beside my chest, and heart with his head resting on my arm in wonderful slumber for fourteen years until he died. I loved that cat as much as I loved my wife, and child, and the air we breathe, and our country , and the existence of all life. God Bless You.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

You have a huge, loving and caring heart Stars, anyone in your care is lucky.


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