Broadcasting Through Hurricane Rita Ten Years Ago
It is an experience I will never forget. We were told by corporate to abandon the studios and get out of harms way. We ignored that advise and broadcast through the approximate 12 hours of 120 mile per hour winds of Hurricane Rita.
We all watched Hurricane Rita cross the gulf as an impressive and scarey Category 5 hurricane. It looked almost exactly like Hurricane Katrina (which has decimated Gulf Port and flooded New Orleans a little over a month earlier.) I was living in Beaumont at the time working for Clear Channel. It all started with the evacuation.
The world had seen what happened earlier when the New Orleans evacuation had failed miserably and storm deaths resulted. No one was going to let that happen again so a mandatory evacuation was ordered and we began 24/7 hurricane coverage on KLVI (all of our other stations simply broadcast the same thing.) There were only three of us that stayed behind to work on the air plus we had some producers and our General Manager who stayed behind with her troops. We started our coverage by broadcasting evacuation routes and taking calls from listeners reporting traffic conditions. We also were giving storm movement, strength and location details.
I remember my wife and son hitting the road. I was at my house gathering what I would need to move into my office at the radio station. At that time Rita was packing 180 mph winds. That was stronger than Katrina's top winds on 175 mph. I remember leaving my house and thinking it might not be standing after the storm. It was still a beautiful sunny day but we knew that was soon going to change.
As the storm neared we went to two hours on the air then four hours off shifts. We did nothing but give storm information and take calls from the poor souls who had ignored the mandatory evacuation. They were all sorry they did not evacuate. Police Departments and Emergency Responders were all locked down during the storm so there was no calvary coming for those who needed help. Before the storm hit I got calls from just about every member of my family. It was like they had all planned together and their plan was to get me to leave and run from the storm. I just could not do that.
First of all I am a broadcaster. That means I take my community service very seriously. I believe that I have an obligation to serve the public. That belief was intensified a few years before Rita when God spared me in my battle with throat cancer. I thought that maybe he spared my life so I could be the voice for those who needed it. Imagine you are in a house that is being pelted by 120 mph winds hour after hour. There is no sound but the wind, the trees falling, the transformers blowing up and the rain pelting the house; unless you have a radio. Our team gave those people something else to focus on and let them know they were not alone. The thanks we got after the storm let us know we had done the right thing.
I remember during the height of the storm looking at the solid steel door on the back of our building and it seemed to be expanding and contracting. It looked like it was going to implode at any minute. I knew any major structural weakness would be exploited by the wind and we would be in trouble. We had made a plan to evacuate to an interstate underpass if our building became unstable. When I looked at this metal door breathing I thought that could happen at any minute. Our building proved to be very durable and made it through the storm.
I remember trying to sleep during my four hour off period and hearing the wind howling and the irritating chirps of the weather bug as it continually issued Hurricane Warnings (like I was unaware of the hurricane I was living through.) I also had taken in some baby squirrels that had fallen out of a tree and had them in my office running around in a plastic tub. I was just not destined to get any sleep.
After the storm passed I decided to go see what damage had occurred at my house. I could not drive down my street due to downed trees and power lines so I parked the truck and walked. I walked past house after house with trees on top of them and was preparing myself for the worse. I finally arrived at my house to discover my metal patio cover was gone and the tops of three trees in my mack yard were broken off. My privacy fence was gone to who knows where but there were no trees on my house. I was one of the few lucky ones in my neighborhood.
Allstate Insurance Company has an award that they call the Allstate Good Hands Award. It has always been reserved for Allstate agents or student athletes. That changed after Hurricane Rita when they awarded six people with Good Hands awards. I am proud to be one of those people. The truth though is none of us did it for awards; and we all broadcast through three more hurricanes in the next four years. I would do it all again tomorrow.