It’s strange to call this event a launch party. The word party is connected so closely with celebration. This book commemorates a day that should not be celebrated, but instead be indelibly engraved into the American memory, much like December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001.
I am talking about August 29, 2005. The day Hurricane Katrina tried to murder the City of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, killing over 1,800 people.
So why should you read a book about one of the greatest natural disasters in American history? So that you know the truth. The truth will set you free. The truth will help us prevent another disaster of the scale of Katrina.
Certainly, nature was the primary cause of the death and destruction. But so did forty years of incompetence, arrogance, bad engineering, and outright deceit at the highest levels of government.
RUIN AND RENEWAL: Volume Three of CRESCENT CITY is that book. It is the book I was always meant to write. Everything in CRESCENT CITY leads to this book, leads to August 29, 2005. What happened on that day and what happened afterwards.
Please believe me. Unless you were in Louisiana or Mississippi, you don’t know what happened. Much of what was shown on TV or reported in the newspapers was only part of the story. The rest was misinformation, rumors, and lies.
As I have said previously, I began writing CRESCENT CITY in 2006 after hearing morons on TV declare New Orleans irreparable. It took me 300,000 words not only to deny that ignorant statement, but to prove why that pronouncement was so wrong. I wanted the reader to love New Orleans.
To love her, you must come to know her. If any city in the United States is a lady, it is New Orleans. She’s strange, wonderful, frustrating, welcoming, dangerous, charming, generous, selfish, necessary, beautiful, mysterious—and ultimately fascinating. For those that have read the first two volumes, I hope you have enjoyed the trip of discovery.
The guides along this trip have been Elizabeth Boudreaux, Marianne Dashwood, and Emma Weinberg Katz, along with the men they love: William Darcy, Chris Breaux, and George Katz. I broke up my epic into three parts, starting things off with the girls in college in 1998 with BOURBON STREET NIGHTS: Volume One of CRESCENT CITY. Our heroines continued their adventures five years later in ELYSIAN DREAMS: Volume Two of CRESCENT CITY. Now, with happiness at their fingertips, along comes a monster that can take everything away.
I present to you a couple of excerpts that showcase my knack for mixing dramatic dialogue with scientific and historic details. The first is from Chapter One. Our friends are preparing to celebrate Marianne’s wedding:
Friday, August 26, 2005
K minus sixty-five hours: Lafayette, Louisiana
“Honey, listen to me. This is damned serious. Our private weather service just sent us an advance of the 5:00 p.m. National Hurricane Center advisory, and it’s bad. The expected track of Katrina just shifted three hundred miles to the west. It’s headed for New Orleans.”
Elizabeth Boudreaux, in Lafayette for the next day’s wedding of her friends Dr. Chris Breaux and Marianne Dashwood, could hardly believe William Darcy’s words over the cell phone.
“What? I thought the storm was heading for Florida!” She turned on the hotel room television set, her cell glued to her ear.
“So did the weather service until just a couple of minutes ago.” Her fiancé’s voice was terse. “It’s a Cat 2 now—winds at about one hundred—and they expect it to strengthen.”
“Oh, no!” The five o’clock news led with Hurricane Katrina. The new track had moved to the mouth of the Mississippi River since the last advisory, placing New Orleans squarely in its crosshairs. “They’re just announcing the warning now.”
“Lizzy, DGS is declaring a full emergency. We’ve got to get the ships we have in New Orleans out of here, and we have to reroute all of our other traffic.”
The implications hit Elizabeth. “You’re not coming to Lafayette.”
“I can’t, babe. I’ve got to see to my people here.”
Elizabeth got control of herself. “I understand. You do what you have to.”
“I’ve got to go. I’ll call later. We’ve got to make some decisions.”
“Okay. There are decisions to be made here, too. When will you call?”
“Late—maybe ten o’clock. I love you.”
Elizabeth placed her free hand over her heart. “I love you, too.”
Lakeview, New Orleans
George nodded his agreement and rose to follow Emma into the dining room.
“When are we leaving?” asked Abe.
The two stopped dead in their tracks and turned in unison to the older man.
“We’re evacuating, aren’t we?” Abe was standing next to an armchair.
“We haven’t discussed it yet,” Emma said, glancing at her husband, “but it would probably be for the best.”
“I agree.” Abe walked past them into the dining room, an astonished pair in his wake. Only last year, Abe had stubbornly refused to evacuate when Hurricane Ivan threatened New Orleans. Now, the old man had done a complete turnaround.
Everyone sat at the dinner table. “I appreciate the change of heart, but what brought this on, Abe?”
Fear was evident on his father-in-law’s face. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what Hurricane Ivan did to Pensacola last year—how it tore up those bridges. Do you know how much one of those bridge spans weigh? Tons! And water floated them off the supports. Water!”
“Floated? Concrete floats?” George was flabbergasted.
“Under the right conditions, anything can float.” The retired architect pulled his ever-present pen out of his shirt pocket and sketched on a paper napkin a cross section of a bridge span, speaking as he drew. “The Escambia Bay Bridge was a low-level trestle just like the Causeway and the I-10 Bridge to Slidell. The spans aren’t secured to the pilings by bolts because salt water and spray would corrode them in no time. The engineers thought the bridges would last a lot longer without the invitation to corrosion from metal. The sheer weight of the spans keeps them in place. All of them meet federal highway standards.” Abe looked his family in the face. “Trouble is, the design has a fault.”
He gestured at his crude drawing. “See how the span section forms an inverted U? The Escambia Bay Bridge was fifteen feet above high tide, but the storm surge turned out to be about twenty. The rising water trapped air under the sections, just enough to lift them a couple of inches. That was sufficient for the surge and the winds to move the sections out of alignment before the air escaped. They lost what little buoyancy they had and sank into the bay.”
Abe leaned back with a stricken look. “Almost every bridge and elevated highway from Florida to Texas is designed this way: solid horizontal concrete sections without holes for air to escape and built as low as possible to save money. The Causeway and the I-10 Bridge are just like the Pensacola bridge. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. If Ivan had hit here, half the entrances to the city would have been cut off.”
“But we’ve had storms in the past,” Emma pointed out. “Why hasn’t it happened before?”
“Storm surge wasn’t high enough. You get an eighteen-foot surge or more, those bridges are toast.” Abe took a breath. “The levees here are as good as anywhere in the world, so we can take a hit by a Cat 3, but if those two bridges are cut, it’s going to be a lot more than three days to get everything okay again. How can help get here? Assuming the I-55 survives, trucks will be backed up for miles trying to get in from the west. The levees in Plaquemines and St. Bernard aren’t adequate. They’re going to get hurt if that storm comes anywhere near here. And the coast—” He shook his head. “If we’re out of power for only three days, we’ll be lucky. It could be a week or more. And no power means no water from the city. Why put up with that? Best to empty the refrigerator and hang out in a motel in Texas until the dust settles.” Abe looked at George. “Besides, it will make Emma happier if we just get the hell out of here.”
Emma leaned over and kissed her father’s cheek. “Yes, it will. Thank you, Papa.” She gave George a watery smile. “I’ll call Mari in Lafayette and tell her we can’t make the wedding. Then we’ll have dinner.” She walked into the kitchen.
George could see that Abe, for all his declarations, was frightened by the thought of evacuation. But the older man had let solid science and common sense overcome his dread of traffic, and the doctor could appreciate that. He patted Abe on the shoulder, trying to let him know he understood what his decision had cost him. With that, he went to help Emma in the kitchen.
Chris Breaux hung up the phone just as the Dashwoods and Elizabeth arrived.
“That was Will,” he told Marianne as he hugged her. “He’s not gonna make it.”
Marianne kissed his cheek. “Lizzy’s already told me. Neither are George and Emma.”
Chris greeted the others as they joined the Breaux clan in the den. Eventually, everyone was seated in a rough circle.
“Okay, we’ve been thrown a curve ball,” Mr. Breaux said. “What do we do?”
Chris turned to his intended. “Babe, what are you thinking?”
“We’re still going to get married tomorrow, aren’t we?” Marianne cried without pause.
“If you want to. I’m just worried about the wedding. With this storm out there, I don’t know how many of our friends are going to be able to attend.”
“I don’t care about that! I’m marrying you!”
Chris jerked his head towards the kitchen. “Excuse us a minute, folks.” The two left the den and closed the kitchen door behind them. “Honey, are you sure? This is your wedding. I just want it to be the way you want it.”
Marianne hugged him. “All that’s important to me is that you and I want to get married. The rest is just a party. As long as my mother and sister are here, I’m happy.”
Chris kissed the top of her head. “All right. Let’s go tell the others.” They returned to the den and saw his mother on the phone.
“That was the Bufords,” she reported as she hung up. “They think John’s going to be called up, so they’re canceling.”
“I talked to Jane earlier. She and Chuck aren’t coming, either,” Elizabeth added.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Marianne. “This gig goes off as scheduled tomorrow.”
“The boss has spoken. But, I’m going to need a new best man.” Chris turned to his brother. “Would you do the honors?”
“Sure,” Mike Breaux agreed. “Who takes my place and escorts Lizzy?”
It was agreed to use Chris’s uncle, who was acting as an usher. Mr. Breaux checked his watch. “Let’s get down to the church for the rehearsal. Father Gerald’s waiting for us. How many cars are we taking?”
K minus sixty-two hours: Mid-City, New Orleans
Richard Fitzwilliam closed the trunk of his wife’s car. “You have everything, honey?”
Olivia Fitzwilliam finished securing their daughter in the car seat. “I’ll gas up north of Hattiesburg, and we’ll break up the trip at a rest stop somewhere in Alabama for a few hours before continuing to Atlanta.” She and Megan were evacuating to her parents’ house outside of Atlanta. By leaving on Friday night, they hoped to avoid the massive traffic jams well remembered from Ivan.
Fitzwilliam nodded and leaned in to kiss his daughter. “Be a good girl, now.”
“Come with us, Daddy!”
“No, sweetie. Daddy has to protect the city. You have a good time at Grandma and Grandpa’s, and I’ll see you real soon. I love you.” He kissed her again and closed the door. He then took his wife into his arms.
“When do you report?” she asked.
“Right after you leave. I’ll be at Third District for the duration.”
“I wish—oh, Fitz, I wish you were coming with us. Goddammit, I hate your job.”
Fitzwilliam said nothing; he only held her close. A couple of breaths later, they shared a kiss.
“Call me when you stop, okay?”
Fitzwilliam thought of something. “You have the charger for the cell?”
“Right in the car. I’ll plug it in as soon as we leave.” Olivia kissed him again and then got in the driver’s seat.
Fitzwilliam stood in the driveway of his home and watched his family drive away, his mind already focused on the job ahead.
K minus sixty hours: Lafayette
Elizabeth was back in her hotel room by the time William called again. She told him Chris and Marianne had decided to go through with the ceremony the next day, and they talked about how quiet the rehearsal dinner had been.
“What time does the wedding end?” William asked.
“It starts at one, so we should be at the reception hall by two-thirty. Why?”
“Okay. I can have the jet land at four. Will that be long enough?”
“Jet? What are you talking about?”
“The DGS jet. We’re flying out of here with Lakefront Airport being so low. It’ll hole up in Oklahoma City until we can bring it back. I can have it pick you up at Lafayette Airport at four o’clock.”
“You’re going to Oklahoma City?”
“I’m not—you are. I’ve got to stay here and manage things.”
Elizabeth almost dropped the phone. “I’m not leaving! I’m staying here with you!”
“Honey, please. You’ll be safer out of here.”
“And what about you?”
“I’m staying in the city until Sunday. I’ll hunker down at Dansereau during the storm.”
“Let me get this straight. It’s too dangerous for me to stay, but it’s not too dangerous for you? That makes no sense!” Elizabeth tapped down her anger at William for making plans without her input again.
“Look, I’ll feel better if you’re somewhere safe.”
“I’m not leaving. Either we both leave, or neither of us does.”
“Lizzy, please, listen to me—”
“No.” She knew facts, not screaming, were the best way to change William’s mind. “You’ve told me Dansereau Plantation is built like a tank. It has a natural gas generator that can run the whole house. All that satellite equipment is there. If it’s safe enough for you, it’s safe enough for me.”
“Yeah, but what if we got hit by a tornado? The house can’t stand up to that! If something happened to you—”
Elizabeth pleaded, “Will, don’t you see? What makes you think I would want to be somewhere else if something happened to you at Dansereau? Do you think I would want to live without you?” There was silence on the other end. “Baby, if we had children like Jane and Chuck, it would be different. But it’s just you and me. I want to be with you. I need to be with you. Don’t do this; don’t cut me out.”
There was a pause. “You’re making this real hard, Liz.”
“I’m not trying to be a problem, but I’m not abandoning you, and I’m not going to let you leave me behind. Besides, I have my work, remember? EDNO will need me if we get hit. So, there you are. You’ll just have to put me up for the duration.”
Another pause. “All right, you win.”
“Will, this is NOT about winning or losing. It’s about us being a couple, being a team.” It was important that he understood that.
“I DO think of us as a team.” She could hear him sigh. “What are you going to do tomorrow?”
“After the reception, I’ll drive to Dansereau. I’ll be going against traffic, so it shouldn’t be too bad.”
“I’ll have Mrs. Reynolds open up the house for you. She’ll be staying with us.”
Elizabeth tried to lighten things up. She hated fighting with William. “Will, it’ll be all right, you’ll see.”
“Yeah, I just love you so much it’s scary.”
“It’s scary for me, too. We’ll get through it together.”
“I better go. I’ve got to have the flight plan changed, and then there’s this call I’ve got to put in to London at midnight.”
“Okay, honey. I love you. Don’t work too late.”
“I’ll get some shut-eye after the call. Talk to you tomorrow.”
Elizabeth’s mind was still unsettled after she hung up. She understood William’s concern, but he was wrong. She only hoped she handled it properly, that she didn’t insult him. The old Elizabeth would have gotten angry and stormed about. The new, more mature Elizabeth used reason instead of emotion, and it seemed to work much better.
As she undressed for bed, she knew she still had work to do. She had convinced William she would not be a burden during this emergency. After she got to Dansereau, she would have to prove it.
Upper Ninth Ward, New Orleans
Greg Wickham watched the hurricane coverage with a smile on his face. The governor had declared a state of emergency and had recommended that people in the New Orleans area evacuate. Wickham had no intention of following the governor’s advice, but he hoped others would.
Wickham had found it impossible to rebuild his drug dealing empire in New Orleans. Other gangs, large and violent, had a stranglehold on the drug trade. But this storm might be just the chance he needed to take a few of them down.
Wickham knew where several of the gangs stored their product. If a major hurricane threatened the city, some of the gang members might flee. The drug caches would be only lightly guarded. If one heavily armed man was daring and fearless, he could reap a fortune.
He glanced at his closet. He still had a half dozen hand grenades from the Columbian boat massacre so many months before. That kind of firepower should give him an edge.
Wickham sat back and tossed a few potato chips into his mouth. If everything went right, G-Daddy would spread a little chaos in the city in a few days.
Of course, you’ll see others we’ve met along the way. Chuck and Jane Bingley. Carrie and John Buford. John Waguespack, Kaywanda Johnson, Anna Elliot, and Lt. Commander Wentworth. Some minor characters take more prominent roles. People will make heroic choices and foolish mistakes. And you’ll see and feel the fury of Katrina as you learn things you probably didn’t know—like this excerpt:
K minus two hours: Downtown New Orleans
Things were not going well in the mayor’s headquarters at the Hyatt. They had power, thanks to generators, but laptops and phones, both land-based and cellular, were useless. Internet and television were down. The satellite phones were unreliable. The mayor and his staff were blind and deaf.
Anna Elliot realized it was a mistake not to be at the Emergency Center at City Hall. But they were trapped for the time being. With hurricane winds blowing outside, nobody was going to travel even the half block. Fortunately, they weren’t completely out of touch. Two-way radio with the Office of Emergency Preparedness hadn’t failed, and someone brought a hand-cranked transistor radio.
Anna glanced at the windows overlooking the Superdome. The winds and rain, coming out of the north, lashed the side of the building full on. She forced herself to ignore the frightening roar. The Hyatt was built soon after the Superdome, and it had survived hurricanes before. Surely, it could stand up to the storm. She once again tried to reach Baton Rouge on the satellite phone.
Suddenly, glass and rain flew everywhere amidst a great explosion of noise. It was as though a bomb had gone off. Anna found herself screaming on the carpeted floor, gray rain and clouds where a pane of glass once stood. The storm had blown out the windows.
Once the initial shock had subsided, Anna took in her surroundings. Those who could move rushed to the door as a staffer struggled with it. Anna saw a young lady curled up on the floor in terror. She crawled to her, grasped the woman’s ankle, and pulled her co-worker towards the door. Her actions got the panicked woman’s attention, and the two crawled out of the devastated room.
Once they reached the corridor between the rooms and the atrium, they were caught up in the crowd of staffers and guests of the hotel. Many were in shock; apparently, windows were failing all over the place.
“Oh, my God!” screamed the woman she had helped. “You’re covered in blood! Help! Help!”
Feeling wetness, Anna touched her face. Sure enough, there was blood on her fingers. Nausea gripped Anna, and she fell to her knees. The police guard with a first aid kit was there in a moment. Sitting on the carpet, back against the wall, she looked around as the guard treated her. Other people had been cut by flying glass too. The injured and uninjured alike were wandering the halls, moaning and muttering and crying, unsure of what to do.
The government of the City of New Orleans had been completely knocked out.
Just to let you know—not everyone survives. In the struggle to rebuild afterwards, life will never be the same for those who are left.
The other books of CRESCENT CITY are:
- BOURBON STREET NIGHTS: Volume One of CRESCENT CITY (available now)
- ELYSIAN DREAMS: Volume Two of CRESCENT CITY
Meanwhile, the prequel to CRESCENT CITY, THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE: a Story of CRESCENT CITY, is also available.
Okay, now for what you’ve been waiting for – A FREE BOOK.
To comment, share the most surprising thing for you in the first two volumes, or your favorite plot line from the series.
TWO winners of a print copy of RUIN AND RENEWAL will be chosen at random. Good luck!
“It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…”