Tuesday, September 02, 2008

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.

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