Review

Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone

by Joshua Clark

The
Big Easy. The City That Care Forgot. These names refer
affectionately to New Orleans, an historically rich, ethnically
diverse city unlike any other American city. New Orleans even had a
motto of sorts: “Let the good times roll.” And roll
they did.

The residents of New Orleans and the city itself had survived
other, lesser hurricanes in the past. But then Hurricane Katrina
roared into town in August 2005. Now, two summers later, when
people think of New Orleans they remember the horrific disaster
that befell the city and its residents. No one who watched coverage
of that horrendous storm and its aftermath will ever forget the
surrealism of the absolute physical devastation and human misery
broadcast to the world for days on end.

HEART LIKE WATER by Joshua Clark is a gritty, emotional and
occasionally irreverent look at life in New Orleans during and
after Katrina by a young man who ignored the many orders to
evacuate. Josh remained in his beloved adopted city, and with his
girlfriend Katherine, a fifth-generation New Orleanian, he hunkered
down in the French Quarter to ride out the storm. With his words,
Josh has documented the physical devastation of New Orleans in
descriptions that are often difficult to believe. But they are
accurate. And he has captured on paper the broken hearts and souls
of the legion of folks whose lives were forever altered by
Katrina.

Josh, Katherine, a few friends and some new acquaintances holed up
at the Compound, as they named an abandoned apartment complex on
the high ground of the French Quarter. In the swimming pool they
could escape the sweltering heat and humidity for a little while
and also keep their beverages chilled. They conjured up meals from
whatever could be gleaned from the shelves of abandoned stores or
removed from now-vacant apartments at the Compound. There was no
electricity, no running water, no municipal services of any kind.
Communication was spotty and quite unreliable. For those who chose
neither to evacuate nor to seek shelter at the Superdome or
Convention Center, it was every man for himself --- survive as best
you can with whatever you can manage to acquire by whatever
means.

In a city awash in toxic liquid and rife with rumors of every kind,
the heat, humidity and relentless mosquitoes made life extremely
unpleasant for those who chose to stay. The city was a study in
stark contrasts: Glaring sun during the day, bleak darkness at
night. Looting and sharing. No law and martial law.

An adventurer at heart and a journalist by trade, Josh dug out his
clunky old tape recorder and set to work talking to people and
informally interviewing them, to capture in words the unbelievable
chaos he and everyone in New Orleans was experiencing. He biked,
drove and trudged through miles of debris and toxic stew. Often he
dodged the hodgepodge assortment of law enforcement, disobeyed
curfews and entered restricted areas to get a firsthand look at the
wreckage. This book is the honest, raw and graphic reporting of
survival in a city under siege from the elements and the
government’s own lack of preparedness.

Josh gave interviews to National Public Radio and managed, with the
assistance of backup battery power, to send a few articles to
Salon.com. He and the ragtag bunch who remained in the city created
an official-seeming cleanup crew to avoid enforced evacuation. Josh
threw together some fake press credentials and by flashing his ID
was generally able to get where he wanted to be.

What Josh saw --- entire houses swept off their foundations, cars
piled up like toys, huge uprooted trees smashed into houses,
furniture, photos, and clothing floating in rancid debris-clogged
watery mud --- seemed unreal. What he heard and recorded ---
countless stories of heartbreak, loss and misery --- angered
him.

Josh has turned his sorrow and anger into something else ---
advocacy. At the end of HEART LIKE WATER, he convincingly explains
how the steady loss of wetlands has greatly impacted the area and
made the devastation much worse than it otherwise would have been.
He suggests calling and writing lawmakers and requesting immediate
attention to this environmental problem.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 22, 2011

Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone
by Joshua Clark

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2007
  • Genres: Current Events, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • ISBN-10: 1416537635
  • ISBN-13: 9781416537632