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Left to rot

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 16 September 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3788
  1. Richard Hurley, technical editor, BMJ
  1. rhurley{at}

In the week after hurricane Katrina, the richest country in the world left hundreds of citizens to die. Richard Hurley saw a performance piece based on the testimony of survivors

Four years ago hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana. Twelve people died in the storm itself and almost 2000 more in the floods that followed. The people of the poorest communities were left to fend for themselves for a week, without drinking water, food, or medical supplies, with sanitation lacking and swelling violence.

Lost amid apocalyptic television scenes and politicians’ rhetoric are the stories of these ordinary forgotten citizens. Katrina presents the verbatim testimony of six interviewed survivors. A dark and dilapidated venue lends a sense of chaos, and although billed as a promenade performance most of the show occurs in one room. The accompanying soundscape of echoes and moving water sometimes struggles to compete with the intensity in the spoken word.

The show proper starts in a bar redolent of the deep South: a trombonist plays, a diva sings jazz, and the barman pours. But television screens of reportage soon destroy the vibe. “Devastating damage expected . . . uninhabitable for weeks . . …

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