I've just finished reading the fascinating Erik Larson book Isaac's Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History. Having, along with the rest of the country, just recently taken in all the Hurricane Sandy news coverage, it was really interesting to read this book now. Plus, I'm just interested in hurricanes and how they impact people, having done some post-Katrina cleanup in Mississippi in 2005 and 2006, and experiencing Fran (1996) and Floyd (1999) while I lived in North Carolina.
Larson, as he always does, re-creates dialogue and description that amazes me, since most of the time his subject matter deals with the past far enough back that interviews with those who experienced these things first hand is impossible. The descriptions of the water surge during the Galveston hurricane of 1900 were what I'm still thinking about a few days after finishing reading the book. The vivid descriptions of homeowners chopping holes in their beautiful wood floors to give the water somewhere to go in the Galveston hurricane seemed eerily like see footage from Katrina homeowners who'd had to punch out through their roofs to wait for help to come.
Also, in light of Sandy's recent devastation, it's interesting to consider how people in New York and New Jersey faired when they had a week or so of preparation time versus those who faced the 1900 hurricane with little to no warning. Those in Sandy's path could make the choice to evacuate and access to some resources (cell phones, proximity to emergency services, FEMA, organizations like the Baptist North American Mission Board to provide things like laundry services, hot meals, chainsaw teams and crisis counseling). And it was still was (and still is I'm sure) a frustrating experience for homeowners to not be able to get what they needed exactly when they needed it. Those affected by the Galveston hurricane didn't have appropriate weather information, the ability to communicate easily with their loved ones after the storm, a proper and dignified way to handle the bodies of those who did not survive the storm.
Reading Isaac's Storm also made me think back to books I've read fairly recently about Katrina: Zeitoun and Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans. It's a lot to think about.