Was it murder?

Deborah Friedell

  • BuyFive Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
    Atlantic, 558 pp, £14.99, February, ISBN 978 1 78239 374 0

When Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, ordered the city to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina on 28 August 2005, two days later than he should have, he exempted hospital staff. There were 2500 patients in hospitals and nursing homes, and no plan for getting them out. Memorial Medical Center had 238 patients, some of them moved there from another hospital, which had been considered less safe. Six hundred Memorial employees – doctors, nurses, administrators, technicians, pharmacists, therapists, cooks, janitors, security guards – also decided to stay, many more than necessary, and many of them also brought their families and pets with them. The hospital was large, modern, well regarded: most of the staff had sat out hurricanes there before. They stayed because they felt a duty to their patients and because the roads out of the city were clogged; there was no public transport. There were probably more than two thousand people and more than a hundred cats and dogs at Memorial on 29 August, when it started raining.

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[*] Code Blue: A Katrina Physician’s Memoir was published in 2008.