Friday, September 3, 2010

Katrina, Kimberly and Scott Roberts and "Con Todo Mi Corazon"

This year marks the fifth year since the full force of Katrina and the “man made” contributions of its failed levees brutalized New Orleans. For the past couple of weeks the media has broadcasted various news clips on what has been identified as one of the nation’s deadliest storms to hit the coastal and Gulf of Mexico regions. Amid the news clips and the focus of this post emerged a documentary that speaks volumes as to how the poor, the disabled and elderly in New Orleans’ 9th Ward were left to confront the storm and attendant breach of the levees. Although issued last year and while there have been other films on what happened during Katrina, the documentary “Trouble the Water” is compelling beyond the norm.

The documentary features Kimberly Rivers Roberts, her husband Scott and their family, as they fought to survive Katrina in their house a few blocks from the ill “maintained” levee system that bordered the 9th Ward. The Roberts along with their poor, elderly and disabled neighbors were unable to leave because they lacked funds. The City’s failure to provide public transportation to safer grounds moreover forced the Roberts’ and their neighbors to confront inestimable odds in their fight to survive.

Kimberly who happened to purchase a $20.00 camcorder to film family events instead used it to record what they and their neighbors endured during and after the storm. The result provides a much-needed historical record of what the poor faced and how they survived nature’s force.

Yet while much of New Orleans weathered the storm the poorly maintained levees further constructed the horror story that the Roberts and 9th Ward confronted. At one point in the film we see the family and the neighbors in the Roberts' attic and the shots Kimberly took of outside showing the forceful rain, and increasingly rising water and winds left us breathless.

The documentary takes us on a journey of the difficulties the Roberts’ witnessed during and after the storm. It provides extensive heart-wrenching details of the wide spread governmental failures that added to the family’s distress. Aside from failing to maintain the levees that exposed the 9th Ward to great dangers, the government also barred the Roberts’ and their tiny band of survivors from staying in a vacated National Guard building. When the Roberts’ requested entry (after the water had subsided) the guards denied them access with M16s. Thereafter the government that failed the Roberts commended the guards for protecting governmental property.

Other details reveal the cavalier responses of government officials that caused the family to endure so much. Their dealings with FEMA for example underscores the scary and violent spaces the poor confront. Eventually after a series of delays Kimberly receives the funds FEMA promised, but her brother who lacked a permanent address was denied financial assistance.

Yet what remains truly astonishing is the hope that Kimberly possessed notwithstanding each hurdle she confronted. She kept her family together and rescued others with immeasurable courage and astonishing hope that tomorrow would bring improved conditions.

In sum, the documentary also speaks volumes as to what status the poor reside in, shows in concrete detail the class struggle and hardships that poverty imposes on those from working class and impoverished backgrounds. It reveals moreover causal links with the disparate treatment and the lack of foresight attendant to the nation’s stubborn refusal to eradicate poverty across the country. Try and reconcile the governmental subsidies the agricultural industrial complex obtains with the narrow definitions of who among the impoverished “qualify” for food stamps and other government “assistance.” Impossible!

Finally and although five years after Katrina and the breach of the levees, a recent tour of the 9th Ward still packs an emotional wallop. For me moreover and ultimately rendering a mystery was the huge writing across an abandoned ranch style house in the 9th Ward. Written across the length of the house was this: “Con todo mi corazon” (“with all my heart”) that left me with yet another reminder.

While New Orleans' history is tightly woven with earlier Spanish governance, how and why those four Spanish words ended up on a house in the 9th ward is a mystery. The words nonetheless underscore how the violence of poverty and particularly as constructed and maintained by ill intended governmental policies show a systemic and perpetual harm on the poor. This stance moreover tainting and spreading across class, race and gendered lines.

Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her hopeful stance ultimately help conclude this post. How? Kimberly is a rap musician who writes music that speaks to the difficulties she faced and the hope she promotes. You can find her music at A copy of the documentary can also be purchased at


  1. I watched "Trouble the Waters" while living in New Orleans. The documentary was painful to watch for everyone in the room, some of whom were hurricane Katrina survivors. The house I watched the movie in was one of the many houses that the National Guard marked as empty with the famous "X", but in reality the bars on the doors and windows were never opened and the house was not checked. The owners had to break in when they returned to New Orleans 6 months after the storm. The neighbor was found dead in the house next door, even though it had an "X" and a zero, meaning it was checked and their were no dead bodies inside.
    Everyone from New Orleans knew that if the levees were breached the poor would be flooded and many would die.

  2. My heart goes out to the people who endured hurricane Katrina and who lost friends and loved ones as a result of hurricane Katrina. My friends who lived in New Orleans at the time, were able to evacuate before hurricane Katrina took place. A great deal of people, such as Kimberly and her family were not as fortunate. It is disturbing that effective assistance was not given to aid in the evacuation efforts.

    It is also disturbing that property seemed to be deemed more important than life during and after hurricane Katrina. The aforementioned example of the guards denying people in need access to government property and the crack down on looting elaborate how property was considered more significant. I remember hearing reports concerning looting and wondering how could all of the people in that predicament be looting when they are in need of food, medical supplies, and more.

    Overall, a lot of the events that took place before, during, and after hurricane Katrina are heartwrenching. I hope that New Orleans will be completely restored and that a disaster of this nature does not occur again.


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