After the Flood

New Orleans evacuee Erik Hansen recounts the tense lead-up to Hurricane Katrina and searches for answers in its tragic wake.

Erik Hansen

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Bill Haber

As usual, a cigarette is dangling from our friend Smokey's lips as she pulls up in front of our house with a load of spare plywood. “Be Nice or Leave,” it says on the rear window of her weathered old pickup truck, and “New Orleans, proud to crawl home.” It's early Sunday morning, August 28, and clouds are moving quickly across the sky. Overnight, Hurricane Katrina powered up to a Category 5, and our neighborhood is alive with last-minute preparations. Smokey helps unload the plywood, gives me an evacuation map and a kiss, then hurries home to pick up her hip boots; she knows there's going to be water. Lots and lots of water. Then she drives to Tulane Hospital, where she will spend the next four days preparing meals around the clock for dozens of doctors, nurses, patients, policemen, and firemen.

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