In the span of five violent hours on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed major Gulf Coast cities and flattened 150 miles of coastline. Yet those wind-torn hours represented only the first stage of the relentless triple tragedy that Katrina brought to the entire Gulf Coast, from Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama.
First came the hurricane, one of the three strongest ever to make landfall in the United States -- 150-mile- per-hour winds, with gusts measuring more than 180 miles per hour ripping buildings to pieces.
Second, the storm-surge flooding, which submerged a half million homes, creating the largest domestic refugee crisis since the Civil War. Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water, as debris and sewage coursed through the streets, and whole towns in south-eastern Louisiana ceased to exist.
And third, the human tragedy of government mis-management, which proved as cruel as the natural disaster itself. Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, implemented an evacuation plan that favored the rich and healthy. Kathleen Blanco, governor of Louisiana, dithered in the most important aspect of her job: providing leadership in a time of fear and confusion. Michael C. Brown, the FEMA director, seemed more concerned with his sartorial splendor than the specter of death and horror that was taking New Orleans into its grip.
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May 09, 2006
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Excerpt from The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley
No wind was blowing when forty-four-year-old Laura Maloney arrived at the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LSPCA) on Japonica Street in New Orleans's Ninth Ward. With the exception of some storefront windows plywooded-up and Mandich's Restaurant, which was closed, August 27 was, by and large, a fairly normal Saturday morning. In a building across the street from the Industrial Canal, Maloney's LSPCA staff had lots of work to do. Hurricane Katrina -- a possible Category 5 storm -- was headed toward New Orleans and the shelter had a total population of 263 stray pets, ranging from boxers to Heinz 57 mutts and Siamese cats. All of them had to be evacuated. "Each animal got its own digital picture shots," Maloney recalled. "We made sure each pet's paperwork was in order. And we IDed each collar; we had a tracking system, in case any animal got separated from their paperwork."1
Maloney could have been a fashion model, with her long blond hair, perfect white teeth, and eyes that implied an internal kindness. The only problem was that she didn't care for high fashion; her passion was animals. Raised in Maryland, Maloney had earned her undergraduate degree at West Virginia University and her MBA at Tulane University. She had worked at the Philadelphia Zoo and New York's Central Park Zoo before landing employment at the Aquarium of the Americas near the French Quarter. She loved everything about New Orleans, except the way stray animals weren't properly cared for. Her husband, Don Maloney, also an animal enthusiast, was general curator of the Audubon Zoo, where he took care of everything from apes to zebras and every species in the alphabet in between. "Animals were a big part of our lives," she recalled. "We shared a deep appreciation for them."
Back in 1997 they had gone to the LSPCA together to adopt what Laura called "the muttiest dog we could." They succeeded in their quest. Tucked away in the back of a kennel was a black-tan German shepherd mix inflicted with chronic tics, heartworm, and a hip crack from what they assumed was an automobile accident. "She was on death row," Laura recalled. "About to be put down, so we adopted her. We named her Fil ."
Maloney was hooked. She quit her job as assistant to the president of Freeport-McMoran, a huge New Orleans based mineral exploration company, and took over the LSPCA as executive director. Many of New Orleans's nursing homes may have been a shambles, and the housing projects that populated the city in a state of ghastly disrepair, but under her tutelage, the Louisiana SPCA was run with the spic-and-span efficiency of a Swiss hospital. She wouldn't have it any other way. That Saturday morning, Maloney, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, and her staff created an assembly-line approach to load all the animals into a pair of climate-controlled refrigerated trucks headed for Houston's SPCA on Portway Drive. Although the two animal shelters were independent agencies, they operated under the mission statement of the 140-year-old national organization: "Compassion and mercy for those who cannot speak for themselves."