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Trouble the Water

troublethewater[Rating: 3/5]

When the winds began to blow and the rain began to fall in New Orleans in 2005, the people who could get out of town did, and the people who couldn’t buckled down and watched.   One watcher, Kimberly Rivers Roberts, watched with her camcorder, and the result is some of the most fascinating footage of the storm and its aftermath ever put on film.

In “Trouble the Water,”  we meet some of the people left in the city, mostly poor black folk.  Some have never left New Orleans.   Some just don’t have any way to get out of town, or anywhere to go if they did.   Then we see the storm hit, watch the streets, and the houses fill with water.   Roberts and her extended family take refuge in the attic of their house as the lower levels flood.   A call to 911 ends with an operator telling them “there are currently no rescue squads.  No one can come and get you.”   The Louisiana National Guard in in Iraq.   Everyone else has gotten out of the city, and isn’t coming back until things get better– at which point they won’t be needed for much.   There are plenty of shots of soldiers standing around, guarding empty buildings.

Rivers and her family spend a lot of time complaining about how the federal government isn’t helping them out, and they certainly have a case.  General consensus is that FEMA absolutely botched the disaster relief, and the Bush Administration just smiled and kept making promises it had no intention of keeping.   And yet, through Rivers’ camera, we watch as the poor people of New Orleans come together and help each other out.   When the rescue squads are nonexistent, her brother makes his own flotation device and goes out into the flooded streets, pulling trapped people out of houses.  Later he reports, beaming, “Never thought the Lord could use a man like me…but just look what happened.”  When the shelters are overcrowded and inadequate, the Rivers load up a truck and take strangers with them to stay with family in Tennessee.

Clearly FEMA failed in its charter.  But in that failure, communities sprang up, people grew closer to each other, and some even found a new lease on life.   This is the story I find to be told in “Troubled Waters” – sometimes even in spite of its makers.   Maybe next time disaster strikes we can look to each other for strength, encouragement and help before we look to the federal government.   Then when it lets us down, nobody will even notice.

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