Friday, August 13, 2010
A look back at Hurricane Charley
Wow, I realized today it's been exactly 6 years ago that as a reporter, I covered Hurricane Charley in Fort Myers, Florida. It was a category 4 storm, and the strongest to ever hit that part of Florida. It was also a Friday the 13th, which seemed very fitting.
I was 26, working for WINK-TV, and so scared. With hurricanes, you know for several days they are coming, which in many ways, I think is worse. For 5 or 6 days you prepare, have an upset stomach and can't sleep. I was worried the new condo I just bought would be demolished, or that my dog Bailey would die. Worse yet, I had feelings that it might be the end for me.
Because here's the thing: television news reporters and photographers are asked to do really stupid things in storms. We tell everyone to stay inside, yet we're reporting live from a deserted beach with debris flying around our heads. We tell people it's too unsafe to drive, yet we're driving in 100 mile per hour winds, and driving over power lines. We're telling you to stay away from windows, yet we're sitting in a live truck.
That day I remember thinking I had a sweet gig, because I was first sent to the Emergency Management Headquarters. It's the safest building in SW Florida, and also where every top firefighter, paramedic and police officer was stationed. But then about two hours before landfall, the bosses told my photographer and I to leave there and "hit the streets." We went back to the station first to get some stuff, and we saw the engineers boarding up the doors. That meant as soon as we left, we were locked out. I asked my boss where we should go if it got really bad, and he said a parking garage was probably the safest bet. I sat there and bawled, knowing I was getting kicked out of the building and that I might die.
Was I just being overly dramatic? Nope, 16 people lost their lives that day.
Here's the thing, if you're ever watching TV and think, "Wow, why is the reporter so stupid and standing out in the storm??!!," know that he or she agrees with you, but they have no choice.
And to think, people believe television news is so glamorous! That week I slept on the newsroom floor, used port-a-potties sans toilet paper and bathed in a swimming pool.