I’m from Indiana, a very landlocked state. So the concept of a hurricane is hard for me to comprehend. Still, in August of 2005, like much of the nation, I was struck by the news, particularly the images of all the devastation a hurricane named Katrina had done to the city of New Orleans. From the images I saw on television, the internet and in newspapers, it seemed that not only were people being ignored, it was only the people who looked like me.
The people on top of roofs with “Help Us” signs were Black. The people at the Superdome, elderly, holding infants and looking despondent and disheveled were Black. Then to make a bad situation worse, the media was hellbent on telling the story of the alleged “looting” in which the Black residents had engaged. By looting they meant taking loaves of bread to feed themselves and their families since the government couldn’t seem to be bothered.
I always wondered what it was like for those people, the people the media seemed to be watching and policing but not engaging or interviewing.
It would take ten years but I finally got my answer after watching Kimberly Rivers Roberts’ documentary Trouble The Water.
Trouble The Water has been out since 2008. But with all the renewed interest in Hurricane Katrina on this, the tenth anniversary, it came into my view after I read an interview with Rivers Roberts and For Harriet.
Rivers Roberts videotaped footage of she, her husband and her neighbors riding out the worst of Hurricane Katrina out because they couldn’t afford to evacuate. (Rivers Roberts car had been stolen a week before the hurricane.) That footage would eventually be used in the Academy Award nominated documentary.
It shows how a woman in the Lower 9th Ward of the New Orleans, along with her husband and neighbors fought to save themselves from a natural disaster made worse by man-made inadequacies.
We watch as the water starts to rise around Kimberly’s house, listen to the fruitless calls she made to 911, and cheer when they find a way to get out.
Once she and her neighbors escape, thanks to the help of a stray boat and a punching bag they used as a flotation device, they make it to a naval base with plenty of empty rooms and beds, they’re turned away by heavily armed military officers.
It’s a fascinating story, that shows Black people as heroes, saving themselves.
After watching the documentary, I wanted to speak to Rivers Roberts for myself to find out not only the story behind the documentary but how life has changed for her in the last ten years.