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Island in a Storm

Island in a Storm

A Rising Sea, a Vanishing Coast, and a Nineteenth-Century Disaster that Warns of a Warmer World

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Isle Derniere was emerging as an exclusive summer resort on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. About one hundred miles from New Orleans, it attracted the most prominent members of antebellum Louisiana society. Hundreds of affluent planters and merchants retreated to the island, not just for its pleasures, but also to escape the scourge of yellow fever epidemics that ravaged cities like New Orleans each summer. Then, without warning, on August 10, 1856, a ferocious hurricane swept across the island, killing half of its four hundred inhabitants. The Isle Derniere was left barren, except for a strange forest standing in the surf.

Drawing from a rich trove of newspaper articles, letters, diaries, and interviews, Abby Sallenger re-creates the chain of events that led a group of people to seek refuge on an exposed strip of land in the sea. He chronicles the dramatic course of the hurricane itself, as seen through the eyes of a diverse cast of real-life characters, including eighteen-year-old Emma Mille, her French father, a steamboat captain, a pastor, and a slave. Island in a Storm is the story of their bravery and cowardice, luck and misfortune, life and death.

At the heart of this narrative lies another, equally compelling, story. Sallenger, an oceanographer, traces the insidious link between the environmental deaths across the Mississippi delta and the human deaths that occurred when the storm swept ashore. The result is a fascinating portrait of a coast in perpetual motion and a rising sea that made the Isle Derniere particularly vulnerable to a great hurricane.

Ultimately, Island in a Storm is a cautionary environmental tale. Global warming is spreading the unique hazards of river deltas to coasts around the world, and the signs of what happened to Isle Derniere may soon be appearing on other islands. The account of this nineteenth-century disaster and its aftermath offers a vital historical lesson as we continue to develop precarious coastal locations whose vulnerability will only grow as sea levels rise across the globe.
 

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Genre: Nonfiction / History / United States / State & Local / South (al, Ar, Fl, Ga, Ky, La, Ms, Nc, Sc, Tn, Va, Wv)

On Sale: June 2nd 2009

Price: $16.99 / $21.99 (CDN)

Page Count: 304

ISBN-13: 9780786741526

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reader reviews

Praise

Chasing Science at Sea
“Abby Sallenger expertly combines the history of a hurricane and its disastrous impact with the fascinating science of hurricanes and coastal geology. He illustrates the dangers that a rising sea, a subsiding coast, and hurricanes pose to populated shores, and with a loud wake up call, he warns policymakers and home owners who insist on building or rebuilding on barrier islands.”

Ivor van Heerden, PhD, deputy director, LSU Hurricane Center, and author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina—the Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist
“This is a wonderful book, a must-read for anyone interested in our future, which shows how historic tragedies can be lessons, especially as climate change speeds along its merry way.”

Robert S. Young PhD, director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University
“Rarely does a book combine fascinating story-telling, regional history, and a science lesson in one compelling package. Island in a Storm does just that. The tale is more than 150 years old, but there are real lessons to be learned for coastal communities on today’s vulnerable barrier islands.”

Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Rice University and author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
"Perhaps the most urgent crisis of our time is Global Warming. In Island in a Storm one of America's top oceanographers—Abby Sallenger—documents the perils of coastal erosion. Using Isle Derniere as case-study, Sallenger brilliantly explains what happens when the sea rises and land disappears. A very important book!"

Bethany Ewald Bultman, author of Reflections of the South, Compass New Orleans, and Compass Gulf South, and the descendent of thirteen victims of the 1856 Isle Dernier Hurricane
“A masterful page-turner juxtaposing the remarkable parallel tales of the survival by a 19th century Creole maiden of a catastrophic hurricane with the staggering geological perils confronting the residents of the fragile Gulf coastline today.”

Ellen Prager, PhD, chief scientist, Aquarius Reef Base and author of