I'VE STORED New Orleans in my memory bank. That was the Big Easy of the 1970s for this reporter when the then-vibrant Louisiana city was filled with jazz, colourful residents and the flavour of a thousand Cajun delights for every palate.
There was jam-packed Bourbon Street and the smells of hospitality that supposedly would last an entire lifetime as I savoured the NFL's Ultimate Excess, known as the Super Bowl.
It was even before the Superdome had been officially opened and long before The Great Deluge and the five hours of hellish torment known as Katrina, which ripped into the soul and the spirit of New Orleans along with 150 miles of coastline.
That was only two years ago -- August 29, 2005 -- when the hurricane slammed the area with 150-to-180-mile-per-hour winds, ripping and tearing and putting 80 per cent of New Orleans under water and creating massive gaps in the supposedly protecting levees.
While a bevy of columnists, including this one, and authors of renown have flooded the bookshelves with sordid stories of the devastation, none has been more articulate and poignant that Douglas Brinkley, an imminent professor of history at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Brinkley has pieced together a portrait of despair and the human drama in his HarperCollins' 736-page book entitled, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In a blurb from the book's contents, it reveals not only the essence of the hurricane, but of the storm-surge flooding in which it submerged a half million homes as well as "the human tragedy of government mis-management, which proved as cruel as the natural disaster itself."
Brinkley takes issue with the city's mayor Ray Nagin, whose evacuation play favoured the rich and healthy; Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco's lack of leadership in a time of extreme troubles; as well as then FEMA director, Michael C. Brown, who seemed to lose sight of his real mission in a mish-mash of mistakes.
However, there were inspirational, if not downright gritty accounts of survival, interspered in Brinkley's account and one that caught my eye was that of editor Jim Amoss and his New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper staff.
While I wouldn't be so bold as trying to match Brinkley's prose concerning the newspaper's crisis of that fateful day, this is my take after reading one of the chapters:
* Now the Times-Picayune office is located a quarter mile from the Superdome and on that Tuesday morning there was about three feet of water at their doorstep when editor Amoss gathered his staff and the word in everyone's mind was evacuate since there had been a breach on the 17th Street Canal levee.
In quoting Amoss, who remains as the major paper's editor today, "We had to make our move quickly before it became impossible and we were trapped in this building and couldn't function."
As a veteran of countless newspaper traumas, this columnist believed he had seen and heard it all until reading Amoss' recollection of how the Times-Picayune staff piled into a dozen delivery trucks while dirty and filthy water splashed around the fenders and threatened to seep into the engines, thus ending the journeys in short order.
In continuing the hazardous trek to higher and much drier ground, Amoss was quoted as saying, "The thought they we might stall in the middle of the deluge and have no option but to drag these people into the water, had me on edge."
But after crisis after crisis across the Mississippi, Amoss and his group landed in the Cajun community of Houma and then Baton Rouge, and, finally, at Louisiana State University where he was able to "commandeer" the LSU journalism building through the assistance of its Dean, Jack Hamilton.
The venerable Louisiana newspaper was able to put out electronic versions on Wednesday and Thursday of that chaotic week, according to Brinkley, and by Friday, Sept. 2, 2005, there was a print edition from Houma, which Amoss called, "a weird-looking paper because their format is different from ours. It stayed that way for two weeks."
While Brinkley published his account in 2006, the crisis surrounding New Orleans continues, almost on a daily basis and the anger and despair was evident as U.S. President Bush arrived on the second anniversary of the great tragedy. This was coupled with a grand jury decision to clear respected Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses, who were accused of murder by injecting four different patients in their care with two different drugs.
Although Dr. Pou and the nurses, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo, were cleared, the tragedy remains and raises questions in ethics.
The storm of 2005, which took more than 1,000 lives, may have passed, but the heartache surrounding New Orleans and the Great Deluge might never go away. Not in our lifetime.
ACCORDING TO SCHOOL DAZE: Discovery Canyon Campus, an elementary school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has banned -- tag -- on its playground. Yes, it's true, those dreaded words "You're IT" could, possibly, reduce squabbles, according to some wise (?) school officials!