In August of 2005, New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest and strongest hurricanes ever recorded to make landfall in the United States. What made this particular hurricane so bad was the fact that the levees broke when it hit. For those who may not know what a levee is, it’s a natural or artificial wall that blocks water from going where it shouldn’t. In this instance, the levees in New Orleans were designed to prevent water from flowing into the city during heavy storm activity.
Unfortunately, for the residents of New Orleans, the levees (which were artificial), were only designed to handle a Category 3 hurricane but Katrina was a Category 5. Because the levees were not equipped to withstand such a powerful hurricane, they broke. This led to an estimated 80% of New Orleans being left under water, in some cases with a water level up to 20 feet deep. In the aftermath of Katrina, several investigations were conducted. Every single one revealed major errors pertaining to how the levees were constructed.
While it was extremely important to investigate what led to such a terrible tragedy that may have been preventable had proper engineering been carried out, it’s also important to highlight the other ways in which the citizens of New Orleans were failed. Particularly the children. Katrina Babies, the documentary written and created by Edward Buckles Jr., who was himself a child at the time of Hurricane Katrina, is giving those children a voice.
Katrina Babies synopsis
“From first-time filmmaker and New Orleans native Edward Buckles, Jr., Katrina Babies offers an intimate look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on the youth of New Orleans.
Sixteen years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, an entire generation still grapples with the lifelong impact of having their childhood redefined by tragedy. New Orleans filmmaker Edward Buckles Jr., who was 13 years old during Katrina and its initial aftermath, spent seven years documenting the stories of his peers who survived the storm as children, using his community’s tradition of oral storytelling to open a door for healing and to capture the strength and spirit of his city.
Katrina Babies details the close-knit families and vibrant communities of New Orleans whose lives were uprooted by the 2005 disaster. These American children who were airlifted out of the rising waters, evacuated from their homes to refugee-like centers, or placed in makeshift, temporary living situations, have been neglected. As families were tasked with reintegrating into new communities, having experienced loss, displacement, and lack of support from government officials, the children were left to process their trauma in a wounded, fractured city.“
Whenever tragedy strikes, and children are involved in some capacity, we often see documentarians go out and find those children to revisit them years later. We could list off all the documentaries we’ve seen where this happens. Yet, there was no followup with the children who were affected by Hurricane Katrina.
That was until Buckles came along.
He realized that nobody had ever asked any of the kids how they were doing, so he took it upon himself to do it.
First off, I have to say that I commend him for taking that initiative — especially when he was a first-time filmmaker. He wanted those voices that we haven’t heard for 16 years to be able to tell their stories. It’s unfortunate that Black people, specifically children, are passed over when tragedy strikes. We don’t check in with them the way that we should. Watching this documentary made me realize just how much Black children are forgotten in this world.
Katrina Babies gives the viewer a glimpse into the moments of children being air-lifted out of the flood waters into helicopters. We see and hear about their experiences in the makeshift shelters. Which, I use the term very loosely because those “shelters” were hell holes. There are stories told about being displaced from their families and having to try and rebuild lives in places they knew nothing about. In some of those places, they dealt with being totally ostracized by the communities they were placed in.
There were tons of things I found disturbing while watching Katrina Babies. But there was one story that really upset me. When the residents were finally able to return to New Orleans to assess the damage and see how they could rebuild, some moved into trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The problem with these FEMA trailers was that they were found to have toxic levels of formaldehyde inside.
After one of the women who was living in the FEMA trailers developed cancer from the exposure, it was discovered that more than 500 of the trailers were not in use in Louisiana and Mississippi. This was because they were found to have 40 times the fumes found in modern homes. I was outraged to learn this because these people had already been through major tragedy and had to rebuild from the ground up.
It’s not enough that they had to worry about how they would rebuild, but then our own government that should have done a better job of protecting those people completely failed them. Those FEMA trailers should have been a safe haven for the displaced residents to stay until they could get back on their feet, but what it did instead was cause detrimental harm that could never be reversed.
Buckle does such a great job of highlighting all that the children, who are now adults, have been going through since Hurricane Katrina. It was so sad to hear every single person he spoke to say the same thing: Nobody had ever asked them how they were doing since Katrina.
That is truly heartbreaking. I know that they are all older now, but that kind of trauma stays with you forever. You can clearly see how each individual has been affected just listening to their stories.
Katrina Babies was an extremely necessary documentary that makes us take a deeper look at the disparities faced by the Black community whenever tragedies occur. It is important that we don’t forget about these people because though they are resilient, as Buckle said it’s not for us to say when a person is resilient. And saying that people are resilient can sometimes be seen as a way to try and dismiss the trauma. Black people are constantly touted as being strong and able to rise above everything.
While that may be true — and the people of New Orleans have bounced back in their own way — they are still dealing with everything that has happened over the last 16 years since Katrina. We need to remember that Black people have trauma like anyone else. Most of all, we need to acknowledge that and do all we can to help them get through it. Our hope is that Buckle’s documentary will remind people of that.