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Island in a Storm

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Island in a Storm
A Rising Sea, A Vanishing Coast, and a Nineteenth-Century Disaster that Warns of a Warmer World
By Abby Sallenger
PublicAffairs Books, (2009)
ISBN: 978-1586485153

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - July 6, 2011

Island in a Storm is popular history at it's best - it is informative, entertaining, and it reads like a novel. In this book, Abby Sallenger tells the story of one of America's nearly forgotten disasters - a disaster that is as relevant today as it was when it occurred in August of 1856....

In the summer of 1856, New Orleans was beset by a Yellow Fever epidemic in which nearly 60% of those infected died within a week of coming down with the disease. The people of New Orleans new just how deadly Yellow Fever could be, as epidemics of the disease occurred on a fairly regular basis, killing thousands each time it reared its head. With this knowledge in hand, those that were able to flee from the infected city did so. Many of the cities residents sought refuge on the Isle of Derniere, a burgeoning summer resort location where the wealthy could wait out the epidemic at their leisure. Derniere was not, as events were to transpire, all that safe of a haven. For on August 9th of that year a hurricane known only as Force 12 swept down on Louisiana, nearly obliterating the Isle of Derniere - leaving only one building, a stable, standing. More important, Force 12 was to forever changing the Louisiana coastline and how we, as a nation, respond to a natural disaster.

Within the pages of this gripping book, Sallenger chronicles the events leading up to the hurricane, its onslaught on the citizens of the area, and its aftermath. Most important, in light of current events such as global warming and the corresponding increase in hurricanes, Sallenger details the impact that hurricanes can have in regard to land erosion and how the loss of land, especially barrier islands - and their vegetation - makes each succeeding hurricane more deadly as flood waters are able to reach further and further inland with each new storm, as was seen with Hurricane Katrina - posing a threat not only to humans and their property, but also to the fragile gulf coast shoreline.

This story is told primarily from the viewpoint of real-life people who endured the storm, and it examines which factors that went into determining who would live, and who would die, before it was over. Island in a Storm is essential reading for anyone with an interest in coastal geology, the environment, and in how global warming - and the corresponding rise in sea levels - will impact coastal residents around the world. This is also essential reading for anyone who is simply looking to read a gripping true-life adventure story that is impossible to put down!

Related Reviews:

Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History, edited by Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister.
A collection of thirteen essays that examine how humans have responded to natural disasters, throughout times from a variety of cultures located in such diverse regions as Western Europe and Argentina to the Phillippines and China.

Disaster! The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, by Dan Kurzman.
This is the compelling story of the great earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco in 1906, and the epic struggle for a city's survival.

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