City of Refuge

City of Refuge cover

I’m reading a powerful, profoundly disturbing, can’t-put-it-down book right now, at the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It’s called City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza. Although it’s a novel, formed around two fictional families – one white, one black – it has deep deep roots in explaining how the disaster built, crescendoed, and crashed, and how the ripple effects of it continue to inform the lives of those who lived through it.

One thing I think over and over again is how, on the one hand, so many people all over the country stepped up to take in evacuees from New Orleans and the surrounding affected areas, and gave money, time, necessary goods – everything and anything they could. This is depicted in vignettes throughout the novel.

But, on the other hand, the entities that should have stepped up, the federal, state, and city governments, so woefully fell down on the job, beginning way before the hurricane season even began. People had known for years that the levees were not strong enough, that they desperately needed repairs and upgrades. But the money continually went elsewhere. Most notably, on the federal level, to the unnecessary, presidential-ego-massaging war in Iraq.

And then, when the disaster did hit, the National Guard, normally called out in such a situation, were away in Iraq; FEMA totally made a huge hash of things (“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job”??? Please.) both at the time, and for weeks and months afterward. As became clear quite quickly, people waited for hours and days to be rescued from rooftops and attics – many never were. And those who made their way, or were brought, to the Superdome and the Convention Center suffered even more. While Bush sat out the rest of his vacation at his ranch.

Well. All of this is known. The book brings it into sharp relief, and is a very worthwhile read. You should get it.

And? I spit on you, Mr. Bush. I spit on you.

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