Aug. 24, 2022 – Children are being plucked off floodwater-lapped rooftops and placed into open metal baskets that twirl in the wind as they are hoisted up to thumping Coast Guard helicopters. Their faces are marked by a combination of weariness and fear. Similar rescues are repeated several times, and then a lone chopper veers off over a massive body of water.
The searing video – shown without words – serves as the opening of a new documentary, Katrina Babies, premiering today on HBO and HBO Max.
The scenes are as chilling now as they were 17 years ago, when, on Aug. 29, 2005, a category 3 hurricane slammed into New Orleans. The subsequent failure of levees across the city led to immediate and catastrophic flooding, especially in the low-income and majority-Black Lower 9th Ward, where many residents had been unwilling or unable to get out before the storm hit.
Those days in August 2005 were just the beginning of a tough journey for hundreds of thousands, but in particular, perhaps, for those who were too young to comprehend the catastrophe that had inundated 80% of the city.
The documentary tells the tale of some of the children who survived, from their point of view.
Almost 1,000 people, and possibly many more, lost their lives – there’s never been a full accounting of how many deaths Katrina caused.. More than 1 million people were displaced at first, and, a month later, at least 600,000 households were still displaced, according to the Data Center, a New Orleans-based nonprofit.
The New Orleans-born-and-raised creator of Katrina Babies, Edward Buckles Jr., suggests in the movie that Katrina was especially cruel to his community. “In America, especially during disasters, Black children are not even a thought. Hurricane Katrina was no different,” he says in a voiceover. “After losing so much, why wouldn’t anyone ask if we were OK? Nobody ever asked the children how they were doing,” he says.
Buckles was 13 when Katrina hit. He and his family evacuated, enduring a 13-hour car ride to a shelter in a town west of New Orleans. The journey normally would take 2 hours.