Filmmaker explores years of trauma experienced by New Orleans kids following Hurricane Katrina

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Seventeen years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, those who lived through the disaster are still recovering from the trauma, according to New Orleans teacher and filmmaker Edward Buckles Jr.

Buckles was just 13 years old when the storm hit. He told ABC News that the pain is still fresh for him and his friends and family. He chronicled the struggle that he and his generation of New Orleanians face in an HBO documentary, Katrina Babies, which premiered on Aug. 24.

Buckles spoke with ABC News Live Prime on Monday about his film and the anniversary of the storm.

ABC NEWS LIVE PRIME: So you were just 13 when Katrina hit and you said that it was your mother who ultimately made the decision to evacuate the family just in the nick of time. But along with many of your peers in that storm, it changed your life. But these stories have somewhat been overlooked. So why share it now?

BUCKLES: Absolutely. I think that as we are sitting here on the 17-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I think that it's incredible how many young people who experienced that storm still have not spoken about it. This film is only doing a small piece of the justice that needs to be done and the impact that needs to be had.

ABC NEWS LIVE PRIME: The documentary begins with this archive footage of the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. You see the city inundated with these floodwaters. You see people, primarily young kids, that are being helicoptered off rooftops. As you were making this, was it hard to go back and look at that video?

BUCKLES: Oh, yeah. It's incredibly difficult. I'm super close to this footage. I'm super close to this project, the ideas [and] the topics. Many people in this footage, I actually know. So it was definitely important that I take care of myself while I was making this film. But I also thought that it was important that we put some of this footage to use so that we can really see what happened in 2005 when it came to Black people in New Orleans.

ABC NEWS LIVE PRIME: The term resilient, it gets thrown around a lot when talking about kids and how they're affected by trauma. Sometimes, though, when you use the word resilient, a childhood trauma could be overlooked because you say the kids are, in fact, so resilient. So in this documentary, you touch on this, that in America you said, especially during a disaster, Black children are not even a thought. You went on to say that Hurricane Katrina was no different. So tell me what you mean.

BUCKLES: There's a double-edged sword of resilience. I think that being resilient is something that we should be absolutely proud of. We should celebrate it. And we should lean on it when we need to. But I do think that is dangerous when it's used in the wrong hands. I think that sometimes when it's being projected towards us, it makes us steer away from who needs to be held accountable.

ABC NEWS LIVE PRIME: There were kids that stayed behind and those that did face a very harsh reality. And they live today as adults with those horrifying memories that until now, until this documentary, until you asked the questions, they had not shared those stories yet. I find that unbelievable.

BUCKLES: I found that unbelievable. When I first spoke with my cousin, Tina, and she told me what my cousins, who were once my best friends prior to Hurricane Katrina, had gone through, that's the fuel that made me even want to tell this story. I couldn't believe that children, ages 4 through 17, had experienced this. And it made me think about that post-Katrina New Orleans that I grew up in and just how horrible it was. And it also made me think about the fact that the children were being blamed for how their trauma was surfacing. So I really just wanted to draw parallels between what we experienced in 2005 and this current state of New Orleans, because it's still pretty bad.

ABC NEWS LIVE PRIME: What do you hope to see for the future of not just Katrina babies, but also the ways in which we consistently care for our youth during times of crisis?

BUCKLES: I just hope that we just talk to the children and start conversations with the children, even if we feel that they may not understand what's going on. At that moment, it's important that we start these conversations and teach them and give them the tools to deal with that trauma once it's surfacing. Right now we're in a pandemic. How is this pandemic impacting the children? I think that years from now, I don't want another film to have to come out like this to start a conversation years later. We should be doing that right now.

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