When the Levees Broke

BBC4, Mon 18 & Tue 19 Dec, 9pm


‘Only in America’ is often a phrase you hear when some weirdness occurs or a mad technological advance has been made. But surely only in a Bush America could hundreds of thousands of people (the bulk of them black and poor) be left to practically fend for themselves after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The fact that Canadian citizens, Venezuelan volunteers and Sean Penn were on the New Orleans scene quicker than the federal government is the biggest indictment of them all. And who better than Spike Lee to document this natural calamity and unnatural response with his four-act requiem which pays tribute on one hand and condemns with the other.

With amazing footage of the hurricane at its peak and of the post-devastation efforts to save lives and rebuild communities, one conspiracy theory nags away. Could it be possible that the banks were wilfully destroyed in order to save the rich districts by flooding the poor areas? Seems fanciful but this is the widespread belief of New Orleans citizens, particularly those who survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and who also feel that the pre-storm warnings were not given proper heed. Whatever the true facts, there is no doubt that some bad decisions were made by the Bush administration during that awful period. Perhaps if this had occurred in an area which the Republicans hadn’t written off as a voting desert, action may have been taken earlier.

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