How do survivors recover from the worst urban flood in American history, a disaster that destroyed nearly the entire physical landscape of a city, as well as the mental and emotional maps that people use to navigate their everyday lives? This question has haunted the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and informed the response to the subsequent flooding of New Orleans across many years.
Left to Chance takes us into two African American neighborhoods—working-class Hollygrove and middle-class Pontchartrain Park—to learn how their residents have experienced “Miss Katrina” and the long road back to normal life. The authors spent several years gathering firsthand accounts of the flooding, the rushed evacuations that turned into weeks- and months-long exile, and the often confusing and exhausting process of rebuilding damaged homes in a city whose local government had all but failed. As the residents’ stories make vividly clear, government and social science concepts such as “disaster management,” “restoring normality,” and “recovery” have little meaning for people whose worlds were washed away in the flood. For the neighbors in Hollygrove and Pontchartrain Park, life in the aftermath of Katrina has been a passage from all that was familiar and routine to an ominous world filled with raw existential uncertainty. Recovery and rebuilding become processes imbued with mysteries, accidental encounters, and hasty adaptations, while victories and defeats are left to chance.
Left to Chance is part of the Katrina Bookshelf series, edited by Kai Erikson and published by the University of Texas Press. The series is a result of an SSRC-sponsored national effort to bring experts together in a collaborative program of research on the human costs of Hurricane Katrina.