Inglese, Demaree,M.D. with Diana G. Gallagher. “No Ordinary Heroes: 8 Doctors, 30 Nurses, 7,000 Prisoners and a Category 5 Hurricane”, Citadel Press, 2007.
It has been six years since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf south and the books are rapidly hitting the shelves. I have read most of them but I must say that “No Ordinary Heroes” is one of the most compelling stories about the killer storm. It is also the story of an event that I do not recall having heard much about. Here is the sage of true heroes—ordinary people—who put others above themselves and their own safety and exhibited a courage we do not hear about often.
We learn early on that the author. Demaree Inglese was one of the many New Orleanians who did not believe that New Orleans would be actually affected by Katrina and that it would pass with little effect. He soon learned just how wrong he was. He should have been a little more concerned, not that it would have done much good. He, in his position as medical director of New Orleans city jail, found that he would be forced to lead his staff through a major crisis which would have a deadly aftermath,
Inglese tells his story with much detail and compelling prose. Between August 26 and September 2, 2005, the city of New Orleans and the doctor went through an experience that no one expected. The prison officials had refused to evacuate the inmates and a disaster followed. The jail soon flooded and it became an island in a city that Katrina had crippled. There was neither water nor power, little food and the conditions became worse minute by minute. The temperature constantly rose and the conditions became unbearable. No help could come in, people became ill, the deputies who were marooned there became irritable and order was soon lost. Inmates were eager to escape and riots began, buildings were burned and decal emergencies all combined so that the storm within the prison began to rival the storm outside the walls. It was a few people who managed to attempt to keep order. Dr. Inglese struggled to keep his wards alive for a week after the levees broke. He had determination and organizational strengths and he did manage to get his staff to rally and it was their professionalism that saved many lives.
Bringing the human side of the tragedy to life is what this book does even if it is written in the common tongue. Reading of swimming through sewerage and facing desperate prisoners makes one realize how lucky we were to get out when we did. Deadly snakes and psychotic inmates, rioting prisoners, no medication or food are enough to make one give up but the doctor did not. We read of inspiration and heroism in a time when most were afraid.
The book reads like a thriller and what happened in those seven days is the stuff that legends are made off. You not only read this story, you live it as you read and I know that I, for one, will never be the same.