Edward J. Blakely has been called upon to help rebuild after
some of the worst disasters in recent American history, from the
San Francisco Bay Area's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake to the
September 11 attacks in New York. Yet none of these jobs compared
to the challenges he faced in his appointment by New Orleans Mayor
Ray Nagin as Director of the Office of Recovery and Development
Administration following Hurricane Katrina.
In Katrina's wake, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast suffered a
disaster of enormous proportions. Millions of pounds of water
crushed the basic infrastructure of the city. A land area six times
the size of Manhattan was flooded, destroying 200,000 homes and
leaving most of New Orleans under water for 57 days. No American
city had sustained that amount of destruction since the Civil War.
But beneath the statistics lies a deeper truth: New Orleans had
been in trouble well before the first levee broke, plagued with a
declining population, crumbling infrastructure, ineffective
government, and a failed school system. Katrina only made these
existing problems worse. To Blakely, the challenge was not only to
repair physical damage but also to reshape a city with a broken
economy and a racially divided, socially fractured community.
My Storm is a firsthand account of a critical sixteen
months in the post-Katrina recovery process. It tells the story of
Blakely's endeavor to transform the shell of a cherished American
city into a city that could not only survive but thrive. He
considers the recovery effort's successes and failures, candidly
assessing the challenges at hand and the work done-admitting that
he sometimes stumbled, especially in managing press relations. For
Blakely, the story of the post-Katrina recovery contains lessons
for all current and would-be planners and policy makers. It is,
perhaps, a cautionary tale.
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