Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Again

Those left alive after Hurricane Audrey hit Cameron in 1957 thought they had seen the storm of their lives. They were wrong.

In 2005 Hurricane Rita made landfall on the western coast of Cameron Parish, bringing more damage than Audrey, but far less loss of life. Fifty years of technological advancement allowed the people of the parish to know exactly when the storm would arrive, helping them to leave well ahead of it. Many said they never thought they would see another storm like Audrey, and some of them left the lower part of the parish for good.

For those who made the choice to stay and rebuild, the hope was that it would be another 50 years or more before that kind of damage would be dealt again. They got three.

Hurricane Ike is currently gliding across the Gulf of Mexico on a collision course with Galveston Island, TX. The national media is focusing on the devastation that may come to the fourth largest city in the nation. What is being left out is that Cameron Parish is predicted to receive nearly the same amount of storm surge as it did three years ago; a tide high enough to submerge most of the buildings that survived the previous storm, and may take some of the homes built to the higher flood elevation after Rita.

The few people who remain there tonight are packing their lives once more into their vehicles. They will try to sleep tonight, and leave early in the morning. A 6' tide is expected tonight: one that will not recede. As those few sleep, a full complement of sheriff's deputies are patrolling the parish, watching the water to alert them should it reach a threatening level. As they lie in their beds, awaiting slumber that will prove fitful at most, they hope and pray that the predictions are wrong.

Please, God, let them be wrong.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gustav: Aftermath

It's been a week since the storm hit, and operations are returning to normal.

Last week, as I drove home, each night brought more and more signs of recovery. A full blackout the first night, then a couple of streets the second night, and so on, to where power outages in the metro area are now isolated, rather than widespread.

We got power late Friday night, as I had predicted, and cable came back Sunday night. After peering through the snow of my rabbit ears, the HD signal from cable never looked so good. I really need to get a decent antenna for this kind of situation.

Last week was a busy week, with my shortest day being only 10 hours or so on Friday. I got a break over the weekend, but I could use a few more days to recover.

I've been eating decently, but yesterday realized that I haven't had my post-storm MRE. It's become almost a tradition to have one after covering a storm in a hard-hit area, and BR was hard hit. I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for one.

My work e-mail was full, with over 70 storm related messages. I only got time to put them into a folder of their own, so I'll be going through them later, and maybe blogging the highlights.

As for work, we are S.N.A.F.U., per usual. It was good to just go out an do stories last week, without having so much oversight. Now we're back to being told what to do and how to do it.

My first story of the week is from Denham Springs, and the supply line there. I like the first half, but the second half suffers due to time constraints.

D.S. Depot

Now, it's a look forward to Ike. It looks like it could be just as bad as Rita in the Cameron and Lake Charles areas. Hopefully the storm surge predictions are artificially high, and they won't see 10' of surge...hopefully.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

G-day +1

It's Tuesday and I slept well. The coverage of the aftermath begins today.

I pick up my bedroll and make my way to a bathroom to brush my teeth. Unfortunately that route takes me through the newsroom, and being the first photog in sight tags me with the 9 a.m. presser being held by the Governor.

I make my way there and discover that my tripod has not made it there with me. The last place I remember seeing it was at LDWF the day before. Time to improvise. Thankfully the presser is set up next to a counter, which I put to great use to get a rock solid shot.

After the Governor leaves by helicopter, I get saddled with babysitting Mobile 31 and the GOHSEP, until the Governor returns from his helo tour of the southeast part of the state. I believe I have related the demise of Mobile 31, but it was revived to become a shadow of its former self. At any rate it carries me through the traffic to retrieve my sticks, then to a refueling near the station.

I can't believe how many people were on the roads today; many of whom had no business doing so. Lines formed at supermarkets and gas stations, which caused traffic jams on the nearby streets. All the traffic lights in town are out, and anyone who has driven in Baton Rouge knows that the drivers here don't know what to do if a signal isn't working right. They blow through dead lights and stop at flashing cautions.

Getting back to the GOHSEP, I find a working fiber line, which almost negates the need for my presence. So I settle in and grab a bit of Wi-Fi to update the blog.

Jindal just finished his briefest briefing of the storm, and he is going to be putting the whip to the power companies to get the people juiced quickly.

Tonight I'll be headed home. I know I can get there, because my wife and daughter already have. We have no power, but we also don't have any damage. I'm not supposed to report to work until Noon, so maybe I'll get to spend some time with them and the hum of the brand-new portable generator.

Gustav Strikes

After a night on the extra firm mattress that was the conference room floor, I woke with the light of day coming through the windows. It's G-day.

I pulled on my rain gear and left the station to meet up with the crew who had the sat truck. We left it with them in Dutchtown, and got it from them at the U.S.S. Kidd in Baton Rouge. Obviously I was dealing with a rookie, since the truck only had about a quarter-tank of fuel and all the cable connectors were wet. Not a good way to start the day.

After filling the truck, we were sent to the Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries, where the agents were staging for Search and Rescue operations. The got started earlier than they expected.

At the height of the storm, a man drove up to the entrance to the parking lot, which was blocked by a tree, felled by the wind. He leaped over the tree and yelled to the agents watching the storm's fury, "A tree fell on a house, and people are trapped!" The agents sprang into action grabbing hatchets and chainsaws and loading up into 4x4 pickups to help. Chris N. and Ken B. followed them to report. Unfortunately two of the three were crushed and killed by the 60' tall red oak that cut through the home like a knife.

I stayed with the truck and shot video of the wind whipped rain lashing the assembled trucks, trailers, Hummers and boats. The wind also did a number on the Christian Life Acadamy ball field next door, and dropped another tree that I was able to record.

When the guys got back they cut a package, then I pulled the truck into the shelter of the building to put the dish up and access the satellite. Cell phones and Nextel were next to useless, and I had to try three times to access, because the phone kept dropping the call as I was trying to raise the power.

As the wind died down to a dull roar, we ventured out into the nearby neighborhood to get some video of the damage. Through streets had been turned into dead ends and intersections became cul-de-sacs with the number of trees that had fallen. As I was driving, a tree fell right next to me, with the branches hitting the roof of the van.

We set up for our last live shot of the day in front of the house that had become the story of the storm. Crews were beginning to remove the tree to recover the couple pinned beneath it. These people had evacuated to Baton Rouge from Abbeville to escape the storm, but it found them anyway.

After getting back to the station, I headed home to assess the damage, if I could get there. Baton Rouge was in a blackout. The only lights visible outside of the downtown area were the lights of the vehicles on the roads. As I crested the overpass at 4-H Club Rd., I saw a welcome sight. Range Avenue had power, and the businesses near the interstate were a shining beacon in the darkness.

The darkness took over at the end of Range, and it was slow going as I worked my way down Hwy. 16. I managed to get a half-mile from my subdivision, but was finally stopped by a power pole blocking the road.

I turned around and headed back to the station, and my little spot of floor in the conference room, which I found two hours earlier than the night before.

G-day -1

Posted on G-day +1.

On G-day -1 I thought I might be headed to the coast, or at least somewhere directly in the path of the storm. Instead I was headed to the Livingston Parish OEP. We went live with an evacuation order for the lower parts of the parish and the locations of shelters for those that needed them. Then we went to one of the towns included in the order for another live shot. From there we tried to get to the edge of Lake Maurepas, but couldn't get there without going all the way around to I-55. We were then directed to Prarieville to do another live shot with people filling sandbags. We found one man there who had been going nonstop for 4-5 hours. He got there to fill his own bags, then began helping whoever showed up who couldn't do it themselves.

After that we made a quick stop at a local Golden Arches to change into our rain gear and grab a quick bite of hot food. I've really got to thank the people working there. They were in the middle of closing, and they unlocked the doors for us and dropped a last little bit of food. If you're on the corner of Airline and Highland, tell 'em the big guy from Channel 2 sent you.

Our last live shot of the night was from Dutchtown High, where the Red Cross had a shelter open. It was quite a long drive, and we didn't use the satellite once. I went home and took a shower, grabbed a sleeping bag and a pillow, and headed for the station to sleep, which was about 2 a.m.