The Great DelugeHurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Douglas Brinkley
All right reserved.ISBN: 0061124230
More than once, a society has been seen to give way before the wind which is let loose upon mankind; history is full of the shipwrecks of nations and empires; manners, customs, laws, religions — and some fine day that unknown force, the hurricane, passes by and bears them all away.
— Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
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 Filé."
Maloney was hooked. She quit her job as assistant to the president of Freeport-McMoran, a huge New Orleansbased 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."2
Transporting 263 dogs and cats was no small task, but there weren't any other options. "The Louisiana SPCA," according to its own stated policy, "evacuates its shelter for Category 3 hurricanes and above."3
At 5 A.M., the National Hurricane Center (NHC) had released an update from its headquarters in Miami. Advisory Number 16 on the tropical storm named Katrina affirmed that with sustained winds of 115 mph, the disturbance had already become a Category 3 hurricane and, moreover, that "some strengthening is forecast during the next twenty-four hours."4 Katrina was still about 350 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. It had ripped through Florida as a Category 1 hurricane two days before, leaving approximately 500,000 people without power. About eighteen inches of rain had fallen. Driving winds had torn doors off houses, bent trailers like horseshoes, sent sloops surfing onto front lawns, and chewed up industrial parks, coughing out plywood and shards. There were seven reported storm-related deaths from falling trees and other mishaps. Despite the horror, Floridians were hardened to hurricanes. In 2004 alone they had been hit with four of them. The state recovered quickly from Katrina's blow, with the lightning-fast help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which trucked in water and ice, hospital supplies, and even microclips to properly tag dead bodies. But just because Florida had recovered quite quickly didn't mean that Katrina, still growing in fury, was through with the American coast. "It could be," meteorologist Christopher Sisko told the New York Times, "an extremely dangerous storm."5 According to Advisory 16, in fact, forecasters expected Katrina to turn west-northwest, toward the city of New Orleans, during the weekend.
That was enough for the Louisiana SPCA, which brooked no discussion and no debate: with the announcement that a major hurricane was on the way, the preset plan went into motion. The two trucks arrived at the Japonica Street shelter. "We reached out to them and offered our shelter for the New Orleans animals," Kathy Boulte of the Houston SPCA recalled. "They arrived in Houston and later we all watched on television while the storm grew into a Category 5."6 Laura Maloney had overseen the evacuation of her four dogs, all of the stray pets, and fifteen staff members. "If we had stayed at Japonica Street," Maloney recalled, "we'd have all been goners."7
Twenty miles to the west of New Orleans, near the town of Taft in St. Charles Parish, the Waterford 3 nuclear plant also heeded Saturday's warning. Relying on its own advance . . .