First went the power. Then came the water, and for five days, the country’s oldest hospital was under siege. The never-before-told story of the heroic doctors, nurses, and patients who fought to survive Hurricane Katrina at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

  1. Chapter One

    Friday, August 19, 2005

    In 2005 in New Orleans, a hurricane, first, was a cocktail, a fruity, rummy blood-red drink that slowly and sweetly intoxicates.

    Hurricanes, served on ice, contain four ounces of high-proof alcohol mixed with the syrup of passion fruit. They were not named for the tropical cyclones that had plagued New Orleans for hundreds of years—not directly. The drink, concocted during World War II, when whiskey was rare but rum plentiful, was named for the shape of a twenty-four-ounce handblown glass. Few remember hurricane lamps, with their curved chimneys. What drinkers remember is the storm that makes landfall in their brains.

    Drinking is what is done in New Orleans. People drink to cool off and rehydrate in a heat index of 105 degrees. They drink to dance, to listen to jazz, to lubricate love. They drink to celebrate and anesthetize demons, which also drowns their better angels. Drink is the economy of New Orleans. They call it tourism, but the juice, the profit, is in alcohol.

    The cocktail was invented in New Orleans; so claims the Museum of the American Cocktail, whose historian, Phil Greene, descended from Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a pharmacist who in the 1830s concocted Peychaud’s Bitters and mixed them with brandy and absinthe in a drink he called Sazerac. Southern Comfort was also brewed here, and 131 years later the company hosted a citywide party, “Tales of the Cocktail,” at the museum and nineteen restaurants. To preview the event...

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