For Immediate Release
Contact: Media Relations, (202) 777-2509

Health Workers’ First-Hand Accounts Chronicle Public Health Aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in New Book

Muddy Waters: The Legacy of Katrina and Rita
Health Care Providers Remember – And Look Ahead

Author: Lisa Tracy, M.A.

Washington, D.C., December 4, 2006 – More than a year ago, the nation experienced its most catastrophic natural disaster when Hurricane Katrina swept over the Gulf Coast, closely followed by Hurricane Rita. Katrina alone caused more than 1,700 reported deaths and devastated the region’s emergency response system.

Through the disaster, health-care providers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and those who had come to help assessed what one responder called "a lifetime of lessons in a single storm." The stories of health care workers who toiled in hospitals, public health departments and special-needs centers in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are detailed in Muddy Waters, The Legacy of Katrina and Rita: Health Care Providers Remember—And Look Ahead , published by APHA Press, the publishing unit of the American Public Health Association (APHA).

Muddy Waters author Lisa Tracy conducted personal interviews one year after the storm and reviewed diary and journal entries to recreate the extraordinary contributions of health care workers -- including doctors, nurses and health department employees – in coping with disaster-related tragedies. The commemorative edition is dedicated to health care providers who served during the hurricanes.

“Health-care providers—exhausted by a year of emergencies, recovery efforts and setbacks in the aftermath of the disaster—were themselves in need of rest and recuperation, even as they continued to shoulder the burden of caring for others, both physically and mentally,” writes Tracy in the book’s introduction. “Amid the debris, the shredded infrastructure, the fractured communications and the daily struggle just to get to work and in some places to find an open grocery store, there were signs of hope.”

Part of the book's content is derived from journal entries kept by public health nurses shortly after the hurricane's landfall, at the request of Doris Brown, M.S., R.N., C.N.S., deputy assistant secretary and center director of the Office of Community Preparedness for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals' Office of Public Health. Several other selections were provided by Glenn Geelhoed, M.D., a professor at George Washington University Medical Center and a member of the Maryland Emergency Response Team, from daily diary entries kept during his work in New Orleans. Tracy’s credentials include 25 years as a writer and editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer and author of several books.

In one of the book’s narratives, a public health nurse shares a recollection of an elderly patient in a special-needs shelter who had survived the flood in New Orleans by climbing onto her bed to a loft and breaking through the roof. The woman then spent several days perched precariously on her roof, watching snakes swim by and praying for help. Eventually, a helicopter spotted the woman and lifted her to safety.

In another anecdote, a New Orleans-based pediatrician recalls the destruction of his practice, which lay along the bus route for the city’s Lower Ninth Ward and serviced some 15,000 active patients before Katrina. His practice has since dwindled to 900 patients, most of them newborns after the storm. He now works out of two borrowed examining rooms lent by a children’s hospital for pediatricians whom the hurricane flooded out.

“The oral history of the public health response to Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans provides an unprecedented glimpse into what really happened,” writes Irwin Redlener, M.D., professor of clinical public health and pediatrics and associate dean and director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness in the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York. “That plus learning how professionals actually functioned during the disaster makes this volume utterly compelling.”

Georges C. Benjamin, M.D., F.A.C.P., APHA executive director, calls Muddy Waters “a book about real public heroes – those who selflessly put aside their own worries and problems to help others in great need. . .These stories send us a vital warning about the consequences of poor preparedness. We should listen.”

Ordering Information: Published by the American Public Health Association, 2006, ISBN: 978-087553-185-4, 130 pages, cost is $33 for APHA members and non-members, plus shipping and handling. To order, call toll free (888) 320-APHA; fax (888) 361-APHA; e-mail or visit APHA’s Web site: A portion of the revenues from the sale of the book will be donated to a hurricane relief fund.

Please send your request for a review copy on letterhead to APHA Publications Marketing, 800 I Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001-3710, or fax to (202) 777-2531.

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