In August of 2005, many of us watched The Weather Channel as Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast and could tell that things didn’t look good for New Orleans. A giant swirling band of clouds covered hundreds and hundreds of miles. Wind speeds kept increasing. If the storm surges were as high as predicted, we were told, the levees probably wouldn’t hold. We watched and wondered, What would happen to New Orleans? What would happen to all of those people?
Four years later, Dave Eggers (who also wrote the aptly-named memoir, A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS) told the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant who chose not to evacuate with his wife and children. Zeitoun, a successful builder, decided to stay because he wanted to watch over their rental properties and help people finish boarding up.
When the storm hits, at first things are bad—really bad—but seemingly manageable. Although the waters have risen above his head, he has a canoe. He has food and water. He rescues some people who are stranded. He feeds the dogs his neighbors left behind. He calls his wife every day from a phone that is miraculously working.
But then something happens and he stops calling.
If you want to know what happened to New Orleans and to all of those people, start with one family. Start with ZEITOUN.
8-22-12 NOTE: I am sad to report that some things have changed: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/08/zeitoun-dave-eggers-post-katrina-hero-faces-murder-solicitation-charges/55618/#.UDDZPZo3cDM.facebook