New Memoir Tells Stories of Katrina Survival Author Joshua Clark rode out Hurricane Katrina in his home in the French Quarter, and became our eyes and ears in New Orleans. He discusses his memoir, Heart Like Water, and his life the in the aftermath of the storm.
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New Memoir Tells Stories of Katrina Survival

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LYNN NEARY, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

Days after Hurricane Katrina, we began calling people around the Gulf Coast. One of them was writer Joshua Clark. He was in his apartment in the French Quarter when the hurricane hit. That night, Clark nailed down the shutters, popped some slipping pills and snuggled with his girlfriend to watch "Silence of the Lambs."

In the morning, he realized he was one of the few people lingering in the waste and silence of the Quarter. In the weeks that followed, Clark traveled around New Orleans and outlying areas, talking with people whose lives were forever changed by the hurricane. Now, Clark has written a memoir of those days, "Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone."

Later, the creator of HBO's hit series "Entourage" joins us and takes your calls.

But first, Joshua Clark and his stories of survival. And we want to hear from you. What are the stories about Katrina that you remember? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And you can comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Joshua Clark joins us from member station WWNO in New Orleans. Welcome to the show, Joshua.

Mr. JOSHUA CLARK (Author, "Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone"): Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: Now, Joshua, when you, you know, made that decision to stay in the French Quarter that night, did you really have any idea what you were doing, how unsafe it might be?

Mr. CLARK: Well, from the storm itself, I felt very safe and I was right in that. I live on the highest street in New Orleans, in a huge apartment building, that's actually the oldest apartment building in the country. And I was on the third story, about 40, 45 feet up. So - but, you know, you start to question that when it comes 4 in the morning and your building is shaking, and you look outside and you see trees and street lamps snapping and everything else and then you lose all electricity. But once the storm was over - as you know, this was not a natural disaster that hit New Orleans. Once the storm was over, you know, I survived that just fine, and most of New Orleans did. Of course, it was the failure of the levees because of the wetlands that had eroded that got us. And I don't think anybody foresaw that.

NEARY: Yeah. Before we get into that, let me just ask you one thing, because I was looking through some of the transcripts from the interviews you've done with Neal Conan. And in one of them, you described the wind from the hurricane as sounding like a woman screaming. That was...

Mr. CLARK: Yeah.

NEARY: ...such a vivid description.

Mr. CLARK: It was like a banshee's wail. I mean, it was coming up into my entryway. My front door has an entryway in the big apartment building, so it's not like it's onto the street or anything. It's three stories up. And it was literally screaming, and banging, and barging at the door. And it would come underneath the door and the gap underneath the door and just wiz around my apartment trying to find its way back out through the windows. And just - that was the only way to describe it, as a banshee's wail.

NEARY: Now, you appeared - you were on this show a number of times. And you were giving listeners an insight into what was going on in the French Quarter after Katrina.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. Yeah. Those were the crazy days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLARK: We, you know, it was - every day, it was a struggle for information. In many ways, of course, you all saw more than I saw. We were on a total media blackout. I had no idea what was going on except for what was in front of my face, except what I could touch, and that was I was trying to offer people. And of course, that was very different than what they were seeing on the evening news. You know what? I remember the last time I talked to Neal. Actually, I think it was my birthday. It was a few days after Katrina. And I asked him -well, I asked him to bring down some purple cocktail, umbrellas and some ice for my birthday party.

And, you know, looking back, I can only imagine that might have rubbed some listeners wrong by - because of what they were seeing on their evening news. And, of course, we didn't have that. We didn't see that. And it's also - you know, thinking back to those times, like, we never had a chance to stop smiling, if that makes any sense, you know. Humor was our means for survival, and like every chance we had, it was about keeping a smile on someone's face. And I think our culture here in New Orleans is - has always put a smile on the face of death. And that's what we were clinging to by a thread in those times.

NEARY: Yeah. Well, you know, at one point in the book, you described - one of the stories you tell is that you and your friends looted a store. And one of the people said, oh, you can go in there. Really, it's not looting. Everything is for free. But you really were looting the store.

Mr. CLARK: Right.

NEARY: So what made it seem like that was an okay thing to do at that time?

Mr. CLARK: Well, it was - we had heard officially that it had been opened by the mayor. And when we got there, there was no police, no officials, so it probably was just being looted. But it had already been opened. That was about the time that we started realizing how bad it was getting, that water was coming to the city and we weren't getting help. So it was simple. It was just a means for survival. We took all the food that we could possibly use and all of food that we could possibly give to our neighbors, you know. Just take care of ourselves and take care of our neighbors for three to four weeks is what I was thinking.

NEARY: Why didn't you (unintelligible) Super Dome? Did you have any idea what was going on there?

Mr. CLARK: No. Very little, you know. That's one thing that really has stuck with me. What stuck me to the day I die is a proximity to suffering and death I had the entire time. We, who were there in the French Quarter - probably about 100 of us, who insisted on staying, who refused to leave - we were just blocks from the Super Dome, where people were, you know, they were sleeping in feces and urine, while we, in the French Quarter, had too much of everything. We had too much to drink, too much to eat, you know. And we were playing music in the streets, helping each other out, cleaning up brick walls, cleaning up the neighborhood, you know, rescuing animals, looking at old retirement homes, anything. But the proximity that those people who did what they were told by our government - the suffering that they incurred because of that is something that will always haunt me.

NEARY: How long did that go on, those, sort of, parallel lives were existing and you (unintelligible) weren't aware?

Mr. CLARK: Well, there was a full, full evacuation. The convention center was -and the Super Dome - were pretty much emptied out within a week after the storm to my knowledge, because I went by there and you would see everything that people have left behind. And it was shocking. It was just like it was - like it was like a city had been built there overnight and everyone had just disappeared in the thin air, all the things they have left.

So what was about a week, and after about a week, then there was forced evacuation. They were trying to get all the residents out they could. And there were those very few - and that's what a lot of "Heart Like Water" is about is those few of us who stayed in the city, who insisted on staying, you know, partly, out of a fear that if we left, it might not be here when we return.

NEARY: Tell us about the compound where you and your friends lived.

Mr. CLARK: The compound - after a few days, when all heck start breaking loose and bullets were flying and we weren't getting any help from the outside, I took some people who have been flooded out of their homes, some people from other areas, and brought them into the French Quarter. And a friend of mine manages this complex of old Creole cottages and some slave quarters and stuff, but most importantly, there's a pool there and there was a hot tub there. And we didn't have any running water, of course. So I took - I think it was total -there was nine of us who were really there the whole time, and took them in and we were able to cook out at night. But of course, we had to be inside at 6 o'clock or we'd get, you know, we'd have guns pointed at us and we get brought to the convention center and everything.

So we could cook out. We could bathe for the first time. It was, sort of, strength in numbers. You know, being alone in those times was frightening, coping with the darkness, you know. That was one of the most frustrating things. As, you know, air-conditioning - it was horrible losing that. But losing the control of light, the manipulation of light that we're so used to as humans. We're so conditioned to having to struggle with the darkness and cope with it, and having each other, you know, having candles there and being able to be outside in this courtyard because technically we're inside on a property so we weren't being bothered there.

NEARY: But at this point, there's still levity, I think, you might say. I mean, at this point, there's still...

Mr. CLARK: Sure.

NEARY: ...there's still that...

Mr. CLARK: Yeah.

NEARY: ...feeling of, you know, it's us against the world. We're going to survive this thing.

Mr. CLARK: A little bit, yeah. There was a little bit. We had, you know, there was this - I don't know, I guess this dribbling of an exodus of people walking through the Quarter with nothing, you know. All they had left in the world was in garbage bags over their shoulders. And that's in "Heart Like Water." We were aware of that in those times, but we weren't aware of the full extent of the flooding. We had no idea what exactly was happening at the convention center.

You know, we were hearing from the police, oh, it's like Baghdad. It's like Baghdad. It's horrible. You know, and then, I have a friend, who walks by there and he say, oh, it's just fine. Everybody was saying something different. So every day, it was a struggle for information. So, like I was saying, I mean, basically, our priorities were just keep, you know, everybody around us, make sure we they had enough - make sure we had enough food and water, and everyone around had enough food and water, and everybody was surviving fine, and everyone had a smile on their face, so.

And that never stopped, you know, the whole way through. Humor is what got people through, you know. And those who weren't able to meet this struggle with humor, you know, there's still a lot this going on: depression, suicide, heart attacks, and all the rest. So, that might be the thing they took away from this whole thing the most.

NEARY: We're talking with Joshua Clark about his memoir, "Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone." We want to hear your stories. What do you remember - what are the stories you remember and what are the stories you want to remember from Hurricane Katrina? Or if you have any questions for Joshua, give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255. And we're going to take a call from Stephen(ph) and he is calling from San Antonio, Texas. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Go ahead.

STEPHEN: I would just - when Katrina hit, it was maybe three or four days later - I'm in San Antonio - that was getting a fluctuation of displaced people. And what I remember is, there's a guy that my wife works for. He owns a big piece of property, an old mall here in San Antonio and he opened that mall for about 3,000 people.

And the first night that we were there, we saw maybe about 800 people come in and we're doing, we're just, you know, just starting up, you know, volunteering from this company rack space that provided computers that did a lot of cross networking, trying to get people together. But by the second day, we had 2,000 people in and the network was running pretty well, and we're doing a good job for just a rag tag bunch of people.

So it went from, you know, 800 to 2,000 to 3,000 of max capacity. And we were responsible for taking these strangers to social security offices, getting themselves fed up through their health care. And within, you know, 48 hours, I had, you know, seven different jobs from being a cook, to finding different clothes for the right people.

And it was amazing to see just so many different people, you know, just drop everything that they were doing in their lives and just say, you know what? We have to focus on these people because they have nobody to turn to right now. And I could only imagine, you know, what these people could, you know, be thinking, you know. They're just, you know, ran out of their homes by this giant, you know, hurricane, and they're sleeping on a cot in San Antonio, Texas.

NEARY: Well, thanks so much.

STEPHEN: So, you know...

NEARY: I just wanted to - thanks so much for that story, Stephen. I just want to ask Joshua Clark. I mean, does that sort of fit in with your experience at all, what Stephen is relaying about what was going on on his end?

Mr. CLARK: Well, I guess, I mean, I never left New Orleans, so I didn't, you know, I wasn't privy to that. But inside of New Orleans, it was the same thing. I mean, we all took on 20 jobs, you know, I became an animal rescuer...

NEARY: Well, that's what I meant, whether, you know, that's the sense of having to dig in and do something.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah, anything you can do. Yes.

NEARY: That's kind of what you guys went through. Yeah.

Mr. CLARK: Right. Exactly dig in and do anything that you can.

NEARY: Yeah. And you did eventually - we're going to get to this, so we're going to have to take a break shortly - but I do want to mention that you didn't just stayed there on the French Quarter, you did eventually go out, not just in the city, but to other...

Mr. CLARK: Right. That was a big part of it as people on - as people started coming back to New Orleans. It was very alienating because we would go on to this great experience, and they came back after about a month, and we finally got electricity and stuff.

And that was the time when I started going to all the underlying regions, the regions that have been even worst hit than New Orleans - Plaquemines Parish, where the storm made landfall. And everybody has forgotten about the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the north shore(ph), every single region, basically, Katrina affected. And I took my tape recorder with me, and just - they poured their hearts into...

NEARY: All right. We want to hear more of those stories when we come back from a short break. Joshua Clark is going to stay with us. We'd love to hear from you, give us a call, 800-989-8255 or send us an e-mail totn@npr.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, filling in for Neal Conan.

In his new memoir, "Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone," Joshua Clark writes, the sun had been shut down like I'd never seen before in New Orleans. The sky was white drizzle, the air just cold enough to be cold. Rain in New Orleans was supposed to come with thunders billowing black-bellied clouds, and vanish within the hour into a sky cast with humbling purple and pink and gold and orange and blue and every other color of daiquiri. But for the first time, the air and sky were drab as a rainy day somewhere else in America. It took Katrina to do that. And now, I would see what it had done to Jackson Square, the solar plexus of the city.

You can read more about life during and after Katrina at our Web site. We have posted an excerpt from Joshua's book at npr.org/talk. And if you want to talk with Joshua Clark, give us a call, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org and check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Joshua, that excerpt I just read - that came just as you were, sort of, venturing out, I think, into New Orleans, leaving your apartment pretty early on.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. We all thought we dodged the bullet, you know. There was roof flashing everywhere, some balconies were messed up, windows were out. But that was about it, you know. There was no flooding.

NEARY: Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about how it gradually - you gradually began to realize really the scope of what was going on. Was it a moment? Was it a gradual realization? When did it hit you?

Mr. CLARK: I'd have to say it was a very gradual realization. It was - as I said, every day was a struggle for information. And it was people - I learned from people who are coming into the French Quarter who, you know, we had to take care of, before there are any medics there or anything. A woman came in. My buddy took care of a woman with gangrene. He sewed a guy's ear back on.

So we're hearing different stories from different regions that way. We were getting reports, outlandish reports, about things that just weren't happening from friends, of course. I had that landline working, which is how you guys talked to me at the time. And I have friends calling saying, oh my God. As I just saw on CNN, there's a marauding band of looters and they're cut walking down your street now. And there would be nobody on my street.

So it was - you only knew to be true what was in front of your face. And in that sense, I mean, that's what this book offers. And I think that that's what makes this book unique. I hope there's more of this. But so far, this is the first-person perspective from a resident, from someone who is actually living here who only reported the things that he knew to be true. And this is not the kind of a journalist. This is what it's like to live in a modern American city - your own city. It's suddenly, overnight, empty of all people, electricity, amenities and everything. I mean, it's beyond science fiction. It's only happened once in America with Katrina.

NEARY: And as you mentioned, just before the break, you did have a small tape recorder and you did go around and talked to people...

Mr. CLARK: Large tape recorder.

NEARY: A large tape recorder.

Mr. CLARK: It was a large, old school RadioShack tape recorder.

NEARY: That's what I'm going to say. It wasn't a really high quality tape recorder. Let's put it that way...

Mr. CLARK: No.

NEARY: ...because we were going to try and use some that tape, but it was a little hard to understand.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah.

NEARY: But tell us about why you did that and why you started collecting these stories and some of the stories you started collecting.

Mr. CLARK: I did. You know, history had never hit me in the face before. And I started - I always keep audio diaries whenever - I usually - I work on stories or travel articles that I've written for whatever. And I just start recording myself the night before the storm. And then as soon as the storm was over, boom, I was outside recording everybody who'd stayed. I knew that something would come of this - whether it would be an article - because there was no one else here doing it.

You know, journalists weren't privy to the times and people and places that I was because I was resident, because I knew them. And then, of course, the story unfolded and the real tragedy started happening. I realized, my God, this has got to be a book of some kind. You know, I didn't know if it would just be the oral histories.

And it wasn't about until two months later when I had these hundreds and hundreds of tapes that I realized I had to lace my own story through this many, many oral histories because I was part of it. So it sort of became into a very personal memoir, balanced with the voices of the many, many people I talked to. And it's in there, you know, as you've seen in the book. I mean, it's the actual transcriptions. You know, it's not - again - it's not me paraphrasing stuff. It's these people. It's their dialect. You know, it's all their - the faux pas they make and the, you know, the insecurities and the bad jokes and all the rest. It's there.

NEARY: Yeah. Can you think of one story from the book that really, for you, captures what was going on?

Mr. CLARK: They're just - there's so many stories.

NEARY: Yeah, I know.

Mr. CLARK: I mean, there's such a wide variety. Everything does in between. You know, again, hope wasn't - humor and hope. I met a guy out in St. Bernard Parish, which is one of the worst hit areas. His name was Eric Colloby(ph). And he very reluctantly told me he had pictures with him in it. So it was all seem very true about how he stayed behind on the storm. And he happened to have a boat and just started picking up people off their roofs and he brought them to high school out there because there was a third story in the high school that was above all the flooding.

And over the course of four or five days, he rescued probably about 2,000 people. And he chucked people out of their attics and all the rest. They tied up boats behind his boat. He just keeps taking them back to the high school. And every night, he'd cooked out for as many people as he could and everything. And he broke into a high school cafeteria there. And he thought to be cut out of Emeril, Emeril Lagasse, who's, you know, list in New Orleans' famous restaurants here and everything, you know. And so he'd entertain everybody by arguing with Emeril every night over the spices they were going to use on the food and stuff because Emeril was sitting there, and the cut out holding his spices and, you know, he had his spices and stuff. And he'd show me these pictures, you know. And he just - he said we had a good time. You know, we made the most of it. You know, what can I say?

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. CLARK: You know, there were bodies floating around them and all the rest. But that's all there was to do.

NEARY: Let's see if we can take a call and hear some other stories from Katrina. We're going to go to Michael(ph) in South Carolina. Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi. How are you all?

NEARY: I'm very good. How are you?

MICHAEL: Thank you very much for taking my call. It's an honor to be on your show.

NEARY: Good to have you.

MICHAEL: I would just like to say that I went down shortly thereafter with the Red Cross. I spent twenty-eight and a half days in bulk distribution. And it was one of the most fulfilling 28 days of my life. But one quick story, the New Hampshire National Guard was posted at our station to, I guess, protect us from possibly looting or whatever the case. And one day, I found myself in front of a very, very old man and who was very crippled. And he asked me if he - if I could carry his food for him.

And I said absolutely. And I said how far? He said about three and half blocks. And I said oh, my god, I got to carry 60 pounds of food, three and a half blocks. But I lifted it on each shoulder and got down to three blocks. And when I put it on to his car, he said would you do me one more favor, son? And I said sure, sir. He said would you tie my shoes? And I looked down, his feet were so torn up, I'd never seen anything like it. And I said, dear god, sir, is there anything else I can do?

And he said well, I'll be back here tomorrow. Do you suppose you could scrounge up some Band-Aids? And I said it would be my pleasure. And I'm a 46-year-old man and he was probably 80 - 85, very gentle black man. And on the way back, I couldn't figure out why he had parked so far away when everybody else was able to drive up, until I realized there was so much debris in the road that he had the smarts not to drive over it, realized that if he got a flat, he was in big trouble. And I just want to share that story.

NEARY: All right, Michael. Thanks for sharing that story.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

NEARY: We're going to try to take another call from Stephanie(ph). And I think that Stephanie is calling from Florida, not sure. Hi, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE(ph) (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a native New Orleanean and lived on Royal Street for the last 17 - for 17 years.

Mr. CLARK: We were neighbors.

STEPHANIE: Yes. Half a block of - on the other side of Esplanade. My friend and I - we took a hotel. I did prepare for the hurricane, enough for weeks with water, food and batten down the hatch. But my friend wasn't prepared and I took the hotel with her. On Tuesday morning, we were put out of that hotel and we had no place else to go. We did not know what was going on. We didn't have any communication. And we were sent to the Superdome, where we spent five days.

My children did not know where I was. No one took our name. And we were in a survival mode. We saw lots of things. You can't see everything when you've got 50,000 people out there.

NEARY: Where are you now, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE: I'm in St. Augustine, Florida.

NEARY: And so are you ever planning on coming back to New Orleans now? Or...

STEPHANIE: Well, I would like to. But I'm 67 years old. There's a difficulty there in that rent is extreme. One can have jobs, but on a fixed salary. And working - being able to get to your job, I didn't - I'd never had a car for 20 years because I either took a taxi, walked or rode my bike. And my life has changed. I have a car now. And - but I will have to say we were all surviving.

But what I did do with my apartment, my grandson was able to go there and spend weeks looking after the people in the neighborhood, just as you did, Joshua, which I think is commendable. But he, too, would ride his bike to the Red Cross, find food and bring it to the elderly people in the fourteen hundred block of Royal. I just want to say I'm going to read your book. I can't wait to get it.

NEARY: All right. Thanks very much.

Mr. CLARK: I'm sure I knew your son, too.

STEPHANIE: Well, not my son, Christopher Lewis(ph). He was actually in the Quarter the night of the hurricane. And he's there now. But, good luck to you and thank you so much for taking my call.

NEARY: All right. Thank you very much for calling, Stephanie. Sounds like she wanted to stay but couldn't, and I guess there were a lot of people like that, Joshua.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

NEARY: You know, you also - we should mention, not only did you move out into the rest of New Orleans and talk to people, but you went to the coast and saw the devastation there as well.

Mr. CLARK: Yes.

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. CLARK: Which was - there's a huge dichotomy between what happened in Mississippi. I assumed that in the Mississippi coast, which...

NEARY: Yes, Mississippi coast, yes.

Mr. CLARK: ...we're talking about. And the tidal surge came in every time a storm hits Mississippi coast. Same thing is going to happen. The tidal surge is going to wipe out everything near the beach, and then it goes away and those people can go back, you know, but there's lots of debris, of course. New Orleans, Louisiana, what happened there was 95 percent of man-made disaster, and there's - and if you ask me that, therein lies a much greater tragedy.

NEARY: Yeah. And you're still - you're still working now. I know you've taken on a sort of personal mission along with many others to save the wetlands...

Mr. CLARK: Yeah, yeah.

NEARY: ...to tell people how important it is to maintain these wetlands.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. Yeah. Most people don't understand that Louisiana's coast is unlike any other in the United States. We don't have beaches here and we have what's called America's wetlands, which are thousands of square miles of marsh and swamp built up from millennia from the Mississippi sediment.

This is drained from 31 states. If you look at a map of the tidal base in the Mississippi, I mean, we have lands from the Rockies in Montana, to the Appalachians, to Dakota plains, down to the Ozarks, the deserts of New Mexico to, you know, the Great Lakes, everything. We live on pieces of every landscape in America and these wetlands have always buffered Louisiana from storms. The storms die when they hit land.

But they're disappearing now in a catastrophic rate. You know, someday, the Gulf of Mexico, it's going to lie on our horizon as it does for Mississippi, which is natural. And then it'll just take one storm to wipe us clean and there will be no New Orleans. And this is not some fantastic doomsday scenario, you know. Unless America starts rebuilding these wetlands immediately, it is a sure thing.

And I think it's important to understand that this is America's problem as much as it is ours. The implications, financially, ecologically in terms of energy and lives, has been cataclysmic, and it's only going to get far worse if we don't fix the problem. So I could go on and on for hours but - it's all in "Heart Like Water."

I explained why Louisiana is now the fastest disappearing landmass on the face of the Earth. And why, for a very minimal amount, we can actually fix it. We have the science and engineering here, now - it's just the policy is not in place.

NEARY: Joshua Clark is the author of "Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone." And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We're going to take a call now from James(ph). He is calling from Wisconsin. Hi James.

JAMES (Caller): Hello.

NEARY: Hi, go ahead.

JAMES: Thanks for taking my call. Joshua, I don't mean to diminish what you went through or your experiences helping other people or anything else, but it occurs to me that whether you intended to be so or not, you've ended up being a journalist. And at the same time, it seems like your personal experience was not maybe quite as difficult as it was for many other people in New Orleans at the time. I wonder as de facto journalist, if you're feeling any journalist guilt now plugging a book about the experience?

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. No, that's very well said. I mean, yes, I guess I became a journalist just in the fact that I was recording everybody. But of course, I was having conversations with people in a different context that I think a journalist goes in. Guilt - I mean, I wish I could go back and have more information, more knowledge about what I could have done at those times. That's what will always get me.

So, sure. Yes, I'm sorry that I didn't have that. But, you know, I was fortunate because I lived in the highest section of New Orleans. So, you know, it wasn't because I was a journalist, it was okay, but by no means that I have, you know - I was not trapped in my attic neck-deep in water with my mother floating beside me, you know. I did not go through those experiences, no. I didn't go through one in one thousands of what some people did in New Orleans.

But, guilt? No, because I told those people's stories, because I was the first one there to get their stories. And I think that's what "Heart Like Water" does and what I tried to do with it. So that's the way that I felt I could best help those people, and I still feel that way.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for your call, James. What do you - what is it that writing this book, writing this memoir, what's it doing for you? What are you hoping to accomplish by telling these people's stories? If accomplish is the right word - but why do you need to write this book?

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. I get asked that a lot. I mean, the book had to be written because, like I said, to my knowledge, I was the only person here with a tape recorder and access to these times and these places. And so I felt like someone needed to do it. As far as what accomplished - whether it's a knowledge about the wetlands, whether it's knowledge about, you know, things, like the fact that, you know, maybe our homes is not contingent on air conditioning and running water, things like I mentioned - the use of humor, you know, which I think alone separates us from the animals. There's lot of things I took out of it, and I hope other people will take out of it. I hope that's answering your question.

NEARY: Yeah. Let's see we can get one more call in. We've got Shannon(ph) from - calling from New York. Hi, Shannon. Are you there, Shannon?

SHANNON (Caller): Hi there. Hi, Joshua. How are you?

Mr. CLARK: Good.

SHANNON: Good. Joshua, I actually met you at a book symposium and met you for coffee, on the Cafe by Royal Street, and we talked about the cookbook I was writing.

Mr. CLARK: Okay. Okay.

SHANNON: And I, actually at the time of the hurricane, we're living at an apartment on Orleans and went to a friend's house off De Soto by St. John. And I...

Mr. CLARK: You're You were the one that used to cook with for Jimmy Buffet.?

SHANNON: ...actually most of the - I'm sorry, pardon.

Mr. CLARK: You used to cook for Jimmy Buffet, right?

SHANNON: Yes, I did.

Mr. CLARK: Okay, that was you.

SHANNON: So - yeah, I'm coming...

Mr. CLARK: Go on. I'm sorry.

SHANNON: Yeah, so anyways, I am just, first of all, thrilled to hear you. I miss New Orleans so much. I left after the storm, but before the levees broke. I came back as soon as I could get back in town, but my apartment was now being rented at three times the price to a insurance person or something. And I have since moved and I'm living in - well, living in Tennessee, still working on the yachts. I miss New Orleans so much. It's such a thrill to just hear on the radio, talking about my home, and what you did and the stories you're going to bring to the people. I'm trying to not cry while I'm talking to you.

NEARY: All right.

SHANNON: You've done such a beautiful thing.

NEARY: Thanks so much for your call, Shannon.

Do you feel like the city - we have just a few minutes left, Joshua, but does it seem like it has really changed forever completely or...

Mr. CLARK: Yes, it's changed forever. Yes. Will it come back? Yes, I think so, if we can fix the wetlands. If we don't, we won't have a city. But, right now, I think New Orleans is like an amputee. I think we're missing an arm and legs and fingers, maybe a nose and ear, but we are - our heart is being beating strong. And we're still limping along.

NEARY: Great.

Mr. CLARK: I mean, blocks from where I am right now...

NEARY: Joshua, we've got to go.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah.

NEARY: We're out of time.

Mr. CLARK: Oh, okay.

NEARY: Joshua Clark.

Mr. CLARK: Thank you.

NEARY: His book is "Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

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