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City Adrift

New Orleans Before and After Katrina

184 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 29 Halftones

ebook available

Environmental History

  Hardcover / 9780807132845 / June 2007

Hurricane Katrina was a stunning example of complete civic breakdown. Beginning on August 29, 2005, the world watched in horror as--despite all the warnings and studies--every system that might have protected New Orleans failed. Levees and canals buckled, pouring more than 100 billion gallons of floodwater into the city. Botched communications crippled rescue operations. Buses that might have evacuated thousands never came. Hospitals lost power, and patients lay suffering in darkness and stifling heat. At least 1,400 Louisianans died in Hurricane Katrina, more than half of them from New Orleans, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced, many still wondering if they will ever be able to return. How could all of this have happened in twenty-first-century America? And could it all happen again?

To answer these questions, the Center for Public Integrity commissioned seven seasoned journalists to travel to New Orleans and investigate the storm's aftermath. In City Adrift: New Orleans Before and After Katrina, they present their findings. The stellar roster of contributors includes Pulitzer Prize-winner John McQuaid, whose earlier work predicted the failure of the levees and the impending disaster; longtime Boston Globe newsman Curtis Wilkie, a French Quarter resident for nearly fifteen years; and Katy Reckdahl, an award-winning freelance journalist who gave birth to her son in a New Orleans hospital the day before Katrina hit.

They and the rest of the investigative team interviewed homeowners and health officials, first responders and politicians, and evacuees and other ordinary citizens to explore the storm from numerous angles, including health care, social services, housing and insurance, and emergency preparedness. They also identify the political, social, geographical, and technological factors that compounded the tragedy.

Comprehensive and balanced, City Adrift provides not only an assessment of what went wrong in the Big Easy during and following Hurricane Katrina, but also, more importantly, a road map of what must be done to ensure that such a devastating tragedy is never repeated.

Jenni Bergal is a project manager at the Center for Public Integrity. She worked as a reporter for more than two decades at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, where she specialized in investigative reporting about health care, social services and economic crime. She has won dozens of state and national awards, including the Worth Bingham Prize for Distinguished Reporting, the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, the National Press Club Consumer Journalism Award and the Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting. She has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist twice — once in 1996 for beat reporting and again in 1999 for investigative reporting. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Sara Shipley Hiles is a freelance journalist who specializes in environmental issues. Her work has taken her from Louisiana’s chemical corridor to the Douglas fir forests of the Northwest and the mining towns of Peru. She graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and worked for six years for the Times-Picayune as a reporter and copy editor. During her 14-year journalism career, she also has worked as a staff reporter for the Statesman Journal of Salem, Ore., the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., and theSt. Louis Post-Dispatch. She has won awards for news and feature writing from organizations that include the Press Club of New Orleans and the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. She lives in Bowling Green, Ky.

Frank Koughan is a freelance journalist who spent eight years as an associate producer for CBS News’"60 Minutes." He began his career as a researcher and fact-checker at a number of magazines, includingHarper’s, Vanity Fair and Spy, before going on to produce documentaries for Bill Moyers and PBS’ "FRONTLINE." He has won numerous awards, including the George Polk Award, two Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, a duPont–Columbia Silver Baton, two Emmys and a Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. He was raised in Swampscott, Mass., and graduated from Boston College. He lives in Querétaro, Mexico.

John McQuaid is co-author of Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms. He is an Open Society Institute Katrina Media Fellow who spent 22 years at the Times-Picayune, where he co-wrote a 2002 series on hurricane risk that anticipated a storm like Hurricane Katrina. His writing about the levee failures after Katrina was part of the newspaper’s package of stories that won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize. He has worked as an investigative reporter, foreign correspondent and national political reporter and his work has won many national awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1997 for a series about the global fisheries crisis and the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism for a series about how pollution disproportionately impacts the poor. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Jim Morris is a project manager at the Center for Public Integrity. He is a veteran journalist who specializes in coverage of industries and government agencies. He has won numerous journalism awards, including the George Polk Award, the National Association of Science Writers Award, the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award and five Headliners Foundation of Texas awards. He has worked as a deputy editor at Congressional Quarterly, supervising a team of five homeland security reporters, and as an investigative reporter at publications including the Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, The Sacramento Bee and U.S. News and World Report. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Katy Reckdahl is a freelance writer who has written about New Orleans since 1999. Her stories have tackled topics ranging from homelessness and HIV-positive women to Mardi Gras Indians and jazz musicians. She has won numerous awards, including a Casey Journ alism Center Medal, the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism and the Press Club of New Orleans’ Alex Waller Memorial Award for three years running. She also has been awarded a Katrina Media Fellowship from the Open Society Institute. On August 28, 2006, the day before Hurricane Katrina struck, she gave birth to her son, Hector, in a New Orleans hospital. She left the city two days after the storm, then lived as an evacuee in Phoenix before returning to New Orleans in July 2006.

Curtis Wilkie grew up in southern Mississippi, near New Orleans. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963 and worked as a reporter in the Mississippi Delta for six years during the height of the civil rights movement. After receiving a Congressional Fellowship in Washington, D.C., in 1969, he reported for the News Journal papers in Wilmington, Del. In 1975, he joined the staff of the Boston Globe, where he was a national and foreign correspondent for 26 years. In 2005, he received a special award for excellence in nonfiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He is the author of Dixie: A Personal Odyssey through Events that Shaped the Modern South. He has lived in New Orleans’ French Quarter since 1993 and also has a home in Oxford, Miss., where he holds the Kelly G. Cook Chair in Journalism at the University of Mississippi.

About the Center

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington, D.C.–based organization that does investigative reporting and research on public policy issues. Since 1990, the Center has released more than 300 investigative reports and fifteen books. It has received the prestigious George Polk Award and more than twenty other awards from national organizations, including PEN USA, the Society of Professional Journalists, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. Read the Center's reporting online at

Links for City Adrift

Visit the Center for Public Integrity's City Adrift page

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