As the weakened Hurricane Katrina headed north from the battered Gulf Coast, dangerous floodwaters rose in New Orleans on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the historic city became the epicenter of what might be the largest natural disaster in the U.S. since the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.
On Tuesday, a day after Hurricane Katrina had passed over the city, two levees protecting New Orleans broke and water began flooding the city, much of which is below sea level. Though it appeared that the water might no longer be rising by Wednesday afternoon, as reported by WWL-TV in New Orleans, the city's mayor, Ray Nagin, said on Tuesday that approximately 80 percent of the city was under water, in some areas as deep as 20 feet.
Today, reports from the city were grim. Electricity and phone service were out, emergency workers were still rescuing individuals from the roofs of buildings and apartments by boats and Blackhawk helicopters, and supplies of food and water were running low. As planning began to bus 23,000 affected New Orleans residents to Houston, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco ordered that the city be completely evacuated, and Mayor Nagin said at least hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had died in the city, as reported by the A.P.
Given such conditions, it was impossible to determine what condition the city's bookstores were in, though many booksellers, including some from New Orleans stores, had contacted BTW.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which is situated on the western border of St. Louis Bay, took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina, reported Bookends Bookstore's Susan Daigre. Though Daigre and her family evacuated and were "all fine," the end result for her bookstore was nothing short of catastrophic.
In an e-mail to ABA, Daigre wrote, "The shop, which was close to the beach, is gone. Word got to me that all that is left is the back cement stoop. Not a book, no shop debris, nothing is left. I don't know about my home, but we lived on the water, and I'm pretty certain that it is gone as well. We bought a 26-foot travel trailer today, and I guess that will be [our] home when they let us return. I had taken the shop kitty, Oscar Wilde, with us and he seems to be settling in with my other three cats and my dog. My insurance will kick in, and we'll be fine, but, please, pray for those who aren't as fortunate as we are."
When contacted at a friend's home, Daigre told BTW, "We're out of the book business. I can't even think of rebuilding it.... We have no home, no jobs ... but we have great family, great friends, and good insurance."
An e-mail report from Yellow Dog Books in Madison, Mississippi, indicated that the store had power and would be open for business as normal on Wednesday, although "most of the residents of Jackson and Madison, including the owners of Yellow Dog Books, are spending Tuesday cleaning up debris and obtaining the necessities such as ice."
Some 100 miles to the east of Bay St. Louis and only about 20 miles south of Mobile, Fairhope, Alabama, was miraculously spared the brunt of Hurricane Katrina's wrath, said Martin Lanaux, of Over the Transom Bookstore. He noted that the bookstore came through the storm "in good shape," though the town took a "hammering." The hardware store across the street from the bookstore lost its roof and "facades were blown down, awnings were ripped off." Katrina completely destroyed Fairhope's pier. Moreover, "on Dog River across the bay, water tore off the front of [my mother-in-law's house] and floated everything away." He said he converted his dining room into a bedroom for his wife's mother.
"We're the lucky ones," Lanaux said. "A half-hour west in Mississippi, it just gets awful."
Karin Wilson at Page & Palette in Fairhope echoed Lanaux's sentiments. "This is the third hurricane to hit us, and we've sustained virtually no damage," Wilson reported. She said she prepared for the hurricane like "we always do -- board up all the windows," but she decided to stay in the store with her family because their home has "lots of trees. But we stayed downstairs [in the bookstore]. We lost power so it was pitch black."
Wilson continued, "We're very, very lucky. The only thing we'll suffer is just in sales. It will take a while to get back to normal, but we're not complaining."
Britton Trice of Garden District Book Shop and B.E. Trice Publishing in New Orleans was on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when Katrina hit. In an e-mail to ABA sent early in the morning on Wednesday, he noted, "Things look bleak in New Orleans. My sister, who stayed, says that my home and business appear fine at this stage, but I hear of more flooding today so keep your fingers crossed. The bad thing is that power is down for four to six weeks.... As much as we'd like to go home and make sure things are secure we will stay away for the time being -- at least until the city's secure and not such a disaster zone."
Later the same day, Trice wrote: "Not much further news as my sister, who was my link in the city, left New Orleans last night because of the rising water. It all looks very grim. My book shop is on the second level of a historic building, so I'm fairly certain that the waters will not get into the shop, but we've no idea how long it might be before we can return to the city and no idea in what condition our home might be in once we can return. It's all rather scary and surreal.
"I have been in contact with two out of three of my employees. They are staying with author friends in Mississippi.... We are leaving Santa Fe tomorrow and heading for Milwaukee to stay with relatives of my wife. We are already feeling somewhat like refugees in that we have no idea how long it might be before we can return home."
In an e-mail, Tom Lowenburg of New Orleans' Octavia Books expressed his thanks to all the ABA members who have expressed their concern. "We did safely evacuate to northern Mobile County, Alabama," Lowenburg wrote. "Even here we have felt the impact of the huge storm. Our neighbor, and chair of our sci-fi book club, who lives down the block from Octavia Books, did report that our store building is in good shape and has remained above water. Of course, that could change as more water flows into the city through the 17th Street canal from Lake Pontchartrain. There are many dangers ahead. Things will not be the same for New Orleans. For now, we have to wait till we are allowed to return. But we plan to feel our way through and come back strong.
"For now it's too soon to know what needs to be done."
In Monroe, Louisiana, Windows, A Bookshop was undamaged, said owner Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, although they had trouble processing credit cards. Spared from the brunt of the hurricane and over 200 miles north of the coast, the town was sheltering thousands of evacuees. Many were at the Civic Center, where Grant-Gibson planned to bring some boxes of adult and children's books. "Everyone we know has [refugees] in their home. "[Windows' staff member] Betty Jo [Harris] has a couple of kids staying with her." Grant-Gibson was trying to contact other booksellers with limited success -- she found out that The Book Merchant in Natchitoches, Louisiana, was fine, as was Turning Pages in Natchez, Mississippi, which had a downed tree in the parking lot. But she was "very concerned" about others further south who couldn't be reached. "I feel terrible," she said. "On Monday morning a lot of people felt they dodged a bullet, but they didn't realize that the aftermath is the problem."
At Book Merchant, Manager J. Michael Kinney said the store "felt no damage from the storm" and reported that thousands of people fleeing the south were seeking refuge in Natchitoches. He noted that many people seemed to be in a state of shock, and that some were visiting the bookstore, buying books, and reading for hours on the comfortable couches. "We're doing a little bit of business," Kinney said, "but I don't want to take their money because it's going to run out." He's been serving coffee and was planning to set up a computer for victims to "let their loved ones know how they're doing and that they're safe."
Although Book Merchant was unharmed, Kinney was reeling. "The storm was just such a monster. I'm getting calls from all over the country... with friends asking if I've heard from various people [near the coast]. I have family in Mobile and millions of friends in New Orleans. It will be a long, long, long time before things are OK again. It's not like next week everyone will be able to go home."
At Louisiana State University Press in Baton Rouge, Business Operations Manager Becky Brown said the town suffered "mostly wind damage. We didn't have flooding, thankfully. There were downed trees and a lot of power outages. Some [staff at LSU Press] are without power at home."
Brown noted that LSU was being used to house some evacuees and there was a medical triage area set up in the Maravich Assembly Center. "We're getting a lot of people from the devastated area," she said. "We're open for business, but a lot of people couldn't get [to work] ... but Baton Rouge proper seems to be okay."
Though in the outlying area of Hurricane Katrina's path, the storm is affecting LSU Press's business, Brown noted. "Some books are printed overseas and normally they're shipped to New Orleans to clear customs," she explained. "Laura Gleason [assistant director, design and production manager, for LSU Press] is rerouting book shipments. Hopefully it won't delay the release [of any titles]."
At press time, LIBRIS, the ABA insurance company providing property and casualty coverage to independent booksellers, was attempting to contact policyholders in the affected states. The insurer was encouraging policyholders to contact LIBRIS directly at (888) 694-8585 or email@example.com or to call ABA's director of special projects, David Walker, at (800) 637-0037, ext. 6612, and leave a home phone number, cell phone number, or e-mail address that ABA could forward to the insurer. LIBRIS' Marsha Katchen told BTW that booksellers should take precautions to prevent future damage and/or injury until a response adjuster contacted them.
On Tuesday, ABA offered assistance to booksellers through an e-mail communication from Walker to all ABA member bookstores in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
"We know that many ABA members have suffered a significant interruption of business as a result of the hurricane, and we want you to know that ABA is here to help in any way we can," said Walker. "If you need us to talk to suppliers about extending credit terms for unsold or damaged inventory, if you are having problems getting re-supplied with books, or if you have any other problem that you need help with, please let me know."
Walker can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at (800) 637-0037, ext. 6612.
Addendum: As BTW went to press on Thursday, ABA learned that Michelle Lewis of Afro-American Book Stop and Mary Price Dunbar of Beaucoup Books, both of New Orleans, were both safe and staying with family in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Nashville, Tennessee, respectively. Lewis reported losing her home and her stores to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. In addition, former bookseller and ABA Board member Kevin McCaffrey was out of New Orleans when the storm struck and was safe.