Eye of the Storm: Inside City Hall During Katrina
© 2007 Sally Forman
Although Hurricane Katrina was not the biggest disaster to ever hit an American city, it was New Orleans’ greatest crisis — posing a near-existential threat to the city, and forcing unprecedented measures from its leadership. Sally Forman was the Communications Director for Mayor Ray Nagin at the time of the storm, with duties that involving trying to steer him away from shooting his mouth off. During the storm, she became an unofficial aide de camp, working to keep members of city hall in touch with one another, and with the county, state, and federal officials who were moving to help New Orleans at varying glacial paces. Eye of the Storm is her memoir, one that portrays NOLA’s City Hall doing the best it could under intense pressure with diminishing resources. Forman does not shy away from self-criticism, though her target is always herself and never the office of City Hall. Civic leaders were proud to have evacuated 80% of the city given that such a general evacuation had never been ordered before, and in their prompt decision to declare martial law after reports began arriving about lootings, police shootings, and violence in the Superdome. Some failures of hurricane response owed to lack of foresight: no portable generator for the City Hall office, buses not removed to ground high enough, and bus drivers not included in the evacuation exemption. Some owed to the murky jurisdictional disputes between city, state, and federal officials: Nagin expressed his frustrated at not knowing, really, who had ultimate authority since he’d declared martial law, but now FEMA and the National Guard were operating on their own. Forman ends the memoir with a list of lessons learned.
This is not a full Katrina history by any means, but one of interest to those curious about how municipal governments can react during a crisis. Unfortunately, Mayor Nagin seems to have acted better during the crisis weeks than during recovery, since he was indicted and made bankrupt by corruption charges.
Hurricane Katrina Through the Eyes of Storm Chasers, Jim Reed and Mike Theiss
Rescue Warriors, David Helvarg
Disaster 1906, Edward F. Dolan