by Sheri Fink

Reviewer Rating:


I wasn't in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, but I felt the pain of the people who waited for days on their rooftops or lived in squalor in the Superdome. How could the response to disaster in the United States have the look and feel of a disaster itself?

Dr. Sheri Fink, physician turned journalist, was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism on this issue, and Five Days at Memorial expands on that work.  Some 45 people died at Memorial Hospital in the 5 days between when the hurricane hit and the rescue and evacuation was completed there.  The question of 'Why?' seems a simple one, but the answers are not simple, and I really appreciate that Dr. Fink doesn't try to make them so.

Why did the levees collapse?  Why did the hospital loose electricity?  Why didn't the hospital have a viable emergency plan in place to deal with this type of disaster?  Who was in charge of the rescue efforts, and how did they respond? What happened to people who were evacuated early on? What choices did the professionals have in the face of the dreadful conditions that developed, and why did they make the choices that they did?  And most importantly, what can be learned so that we have better outcomes in the inevitable disasters of the future?

It is a pretty good trick to examine all these things in a thorough, fair and balanced way.  Five Days at Memorial is all these things, meanwhile hard to put down, and full of human understanding, while never belittling the errors of judgment and their consequences. Really glad I read this book!

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