The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

September 18, 2009

Book review: Documentary shows struggle of Katrina recovery

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina roared ashore the U.S. Gulf Coast, causing widespread damage and an estimated 1,836 deaths. The most severe losses occurred in New Orleans, after the levees gave way and floodwaters swallowed 80 percent of the city.

While many people obeyed the mandatory evacuation order, others stayed behind. Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Roberts, a young married couple, opted to ride out the storm in their Ninth Ward home.

As their ordeal unfolded, Kimberly captured it with her video camera; she later turned the footage over to filmmakers she met by chance. The result is the riveting “Trouble the Water,” documentary winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

As the film opens, it’s the day before Katrina makes landfall, and Kimberly is walking around her nearly deserted neighborhood, checking in with friends and family who have stayed. The sky is heavy with clouds, and the wind is picking up ominously.

The next time she turns on the camera, the storm has arrived in all its fury.

Floodwaters spilling into their home force Kimberly, Scott and their neighbors up to the attic. Upon learning that the levees have been breached, Kimberly looks out the attic window at her neighborhood, now engulfed by surging water.

“We under siege,” she says. “Truly, we under siege.”

Chilling and heartbreaking 911 calls play over images of the violent storm. Person after person begs for help, only to be told that “at this time we are not rescuing.”

A woman trapped in her attic while water continues to rise is instructed to break through the roof to escape, but she is unable to do so. “So I’m gonna die,” she tells the dispatcher plaintively. “Hello? I can’t get out.”

After the storm, Kimberly and Scott’s struggle is just beginning. They wade through the water, pushing a boat loaded with children and a disabled neighbor, seeking shelter somewhere, anywhere.

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