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Book Review: Katrina: A Freight Train Screamin’ by Cary Black

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The drinking glasses in the cupboards begin to sound off as they bump into each other.  The window panes shake and rattle in their frames.  A low rumble can be faintly heard in the distance.  Soon the entire house is shaking.  Our house was over 60 years old and built on piers, about three feet off the ground.  My bedroom was on the side nearest the tracks, about the distance of a football field away.  Situated between two crossings, we got several blasts of the train’s whistle as it rolled through the small sleepy town of Mangham, LA.  It rarely stopped and often swept through town at a somewhat slower pace than the open rails between populated areas. 

Visitors often complained that night trains interrupted their sleep, while we scarcely noticed.  A diesel engine weighs over 270,000 pounds. One loaded boxcar totals over 30 tons.  When a train with over 20 units comes by your bedroom window, you can feel it coming far in advance and be prepared when the whistle makes it sound as if you’re lying on the tracks.  Maybe the governor and mayor had never slept near the tracks.  Maybe the folks south of Lake Pontchartrain were like me as a child in my bed at home; sound asleep as the freight train screamed its arrival.

Credit USAF

In retrospect, much of the disaster that was Katrina was man made.  The blame game began almost before the winds died down.  Tiger Stadium became a triage field. Along with the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge had it’s own MASH unit.  The sound of helicopters 24/7  replaced the howling winds and many veterans were reminded of Vietnam.  Now as an adult living in Baton Rouge, I heard not freight trains, but helicopters.  In some ways, Katrina brought out the worst in mankind and in Louisiana herself.  It was bad enough, that my wife and I moved to North Carolina. 

Fortunately, for readers, author, Cary Black, focuses his book, Katrina: A Freight Train Screamin’ on the best that Katrina brought out in man and state.  Enough has been written about to whom the blame belongs for all the problems so it was pleasing that Black chose to avoid that.  In the midst of tragedy and turmoil, there is always good to be found and Mr. Black did just that. 

Section One includes seven chapters (only 43 pages) to set the stage, explain the project, and provide background on both the coast and hurricanes in general.  The remaining three sections include the stories of individuals as they saw it themselves. Many interviews, first person accounts, and reports.  Black’s writing is clear and concise although he allows the people to speak for themselves, so don’t expect Truman Capote quality prose.  The stories along with twelve pages of color photos will inspire, encourage, enrage, and inform readers. 

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Katrina: A Freight Train Screamin’ is available from Amazon both as a hardcopy and e-book.  A DVD is due out soon and you can tune into a weekly radio show on Thursday evening from 8-9pm Eastern here.

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