May 15, 2006
Horne, metro editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
, writes with the clipped, raw urgency of a thriller writer in this humanist account of what happened after the levees broke. As already widely reported, residents who ignored the mandatory evacuation order (thinking "Katrina... had all the makings of a flop") quickly found themselves surrounded by bloated corpses floating in toxic floodwaters and without a consolidated rescue effort. Horne quickly moves past the melodrama of a striking disaster to recount the stories of individuals caught in the storm's hellish aftermath or mired in the government's hamstrung response: a Louisiana State University climatologist goes head-to-head with the Army Corps of Engineers over inadequate flood protection and faulty levees; a former Black Panther provides emergency health care at a local mosque. Horne saves his sharpest barbs for President Bush and the Department of Homeland Security ("if Homeland Security... was what stood between America and the next 9/11, then... America was in deep trouble") for failing to muster an appropriate response. Big disasters spawn big books, and though Horne's isn't the definitive account, it's an honest, angry and wrenching response to a massively bungled catastrophe.