Zeitoun opens his eyes, back in New Orleans, to hear a sound of running water. Looking out the window, he sees a wide sea of water rushing into the yard from the north. It’s not murky rainwater, like the days before, but rather green, clear lake water. Zeitoun realizes that the levees must have given way or been overtopped, and the city will soon be underwater—eight feet or more.
Given the kind of water rushing into Zeitoun’s yard, he’s able to infer that this new flooding is different—indeed, potentially much more dangerous—than the earlier flooding, which disappeared quickly enough. This water is coming from nearby Lake Pontchartrain, whose waters are held back from the city by manmade levees.
Zeitoun quickly calls Kathy, but then has to get to work. He lifts as much furniture as he can to the second floor, along with all the games and books and electronics. Kathy wants to get out of her family’s hair in Baton Rouge, with so many people sharing a small house, so she takes the kids into the car to drive around. She calls Zeitoun from the road to ask him to remember his jewelry box, which he brings upstairs. Then she calls back saying that she had been right not to want to cancel their flood insurance, which he did just a few weeks ago: he knows she’s right, but asks if they can talk about it later.
Zeitoun realizes that now that the levees have broken, he doesn’t have much time before his own home, and much of the rest of the city, will be fully underwater. This is partly why Zeitoun stayed in New Orleans in the first place, in order to reduce the amount of damage as much as possible and assume responsibility for his and his renters’ homes. No longer is Zeitoun self-satisfied, though, about his stubbornness in wanting to stay.
The water is flowing into Zeitoun’s yard as he continues to drag everything he can upstairs. The water’s translucent color is in some ways beautiful, though: it reminds him of a storm on Arwad Island when he was a child. Zeitoun reaches into the fish tank and drops the fish into the water, knowing this would be there best chance of surviving. The water rises up to six feet in the house, swallowing the phone and electrical box.
Although Zeitoun has been jolted into reality by the flooding, he still lingers on his early-morning memories of his childhood, when it was not dangerous or frightening but normal to be around water. Now, though, the flooding is ominous, already cutting off his communication to the outside world and his family.
By that night, the neighborhood is under nine feet of water and Zeitoun can’t do anything else. He calls Kathy, realizing that the house will have to be gutted when it’s over. Zeitoun thinks of the houses near the levees, which must be in an even worse state. He decides to say goodbye to his wife to conserve what little battery he has left on his cell phone.
In New Orleans, the houses closest to the levees were often occupied by the poorest residents, so Zeitoun realizes, even as he is sober about the damage to his own home, that things are much worse for many of the city’s residents.
Meanwhile, Adnan calls Kathy to ask if she knows of a place to stay. She says she’ll speak to Mary Ann and Patty immediately. The house is already crowded, but she’s confident they won’t make a pregnant woman sleep in the car. When she gets home, however, Mary Ann scolds Kathy for leaving, and Kathy, exhausted, wonders if she should drive to Phoenix to stay with Yuko. She asks if Adnan and his wife could stay for one night, and Mary Ann replies that they absolutely can’t.
Adnan hasn’t directly asked to stay with Kathy’s family, but for Kathy, like Zeitoun, family always comes first, and she can’t imagine a reason her brother-in-law can’t stay. Mary Ann’s unwillingness to accept the couple is difficult for Kathy, who can’t seem to recover a true family feeling with her sisters.
In New Orleans, Zeitoun is leafing with a flashlight through the boxes of pictures he’s salvaged. He pauses over one that he hasn’t seen in years: he and his siblings are playing with their brother Mohammed, 18 years older, in the bedroom shared by the younger boys in Jableh. Abdulrahman’s five-year-old fingers are swallowed by Mohammed’s large hand. Mohammed had been the most famous athlete in Syrian history, a long-distance ocean swimmer that was one of the best in world history.
The lack of electricity and company means that Zeitoun is able to spend some time revisiting his past in the form of photographs and the memories that these pictures revive. In particular, Zeitoun concentrates on his brother Mohammed, who continues to be an overwhelming presence in his life even in his physical absence. Mohammed is also yet another connection to the sea for Zeitoun.
Mohammed had often been away, racing in Greece and Italy and the U.S., and was featured in magazines and newspapers worldwide. His siblings swarmed around him whenever he was briefly home. When Zeitoun was six, Mohammed was tragically killed in a car accident in Egypt, just before a race. A monument still stands to him on the waterfront in Jableh.
The tragedy of his brother Mohammed’s death hung over the rest of Zeitoun’s childhood, leaving a gaping hole, especially because Mohammed was such a powerful and admirable figure to the world as well as to the family.
Zeitoun has trouble sleeping—he’s never had to withstand such heat without air conditioning. He crawls up to the roof and drags Nademah’s mattress out to sleep there. He begins to hear the neighborhood dogs howling all throughout the streets.
Crouched on the roof with howling dogs surrounding him, Zeitoun’s fourth night alone in New Orleans is the bleakest yet, especially as his ability to contact his family is now limited.