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Networks improvise in Gulf Coast as Katrina hits

(Posted August 30, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

TV news scattered hundreds of staffers throughout the Gulf Coast on Monday to cover Hurricane Katrina, as reporters braved 150 mph winds and 20-foot storm surges (as well as balky satellite links) to report on the storm.

Katrina cut across south Florida late last week and, by Friday, the news divisions moved resources to cover what seemed like a dangerous but all-too-common hurricane, like many in the past year or so. But the storm intensified early Sunday, and so did the coverage plans, network executives said Monday.

"When it got to be a Category 5, that changes the kind of resources you send into the area," ABC News senior vp newsgathering Paul Slavin said. ABC News had seven correspondents and 14 crews, for example.

NBC's Brian Williams was the only network news anchor on the scene; other correspondents included Fox News' Shep Smith, who reported from the French Quarter in New Orleans; Steve Harrigan from Gulfport, Miss.; CBS' John Roberts; and CNN's Anderson Cooper and Miles O'Brien. All three network news morning shows continued coverage until at least noon ET.

By 8 p.m. ET, Katrina had bypassed New Orleans and deteriorated into a tropical storm centered over Mississippi. It was still packing heavy rains and 65 mph winds, just below hurricane strength.

Yet it still managed to cause all sorts of problems, from difficulties getting around to problems securing video and cell phone links. CBS "Early Show" executive producer Michael Bass said Monday that the situation changed rapidly, with some correspondents' video streams going dark as the electricity cut out or the storm intensified.

"You're constantly looking and adding and adjusting. We didn't know from half-hour to half-hour what we'd have up," Bass said. "You have to constantly adjust once the story changes."

NBC News senior vp Steve Capus agreed.

"You can't expect to stay live when the winds hit this level -- 140, 175 mph," Capus said. "No satellite dish can withstand that sort of thing."

That led the networks to go to backup plans, including videophones (while they worked), the telephone and even still photographs.

"It's a little bit play-by-ear. We did remotes by cell phone," Bass said. "You deal with losing the pictures and losing the satellite."

Early attention was brought to the Superdome in New Orleans, which served as a refuge for thousands escaping the storm. The structure held -- but not without some scary moments, NBC's Williams said.

"I'm looking at three new skylights that they didn't plan on, with rain pouring in," Williams said in a midafternoon interview Monday. "The artificial turf is sopping wet. But 9,000 people have been so great. It's the biggest shelter in the free world today."

Katrina could become the most expensive storm in U.S. history, costing insurers up to $26 billion, risk analysts said. Five people were confirmed dead, officials said.

CBS' Harry Smith was expected to arrive in the area to report live for "The Early Show" Tuesday. ABC, among other networks, were weighing who else to send and who needed relief from what had been two days of almost constant coverage.

"There's going to be a lot of stories from this hurricane zone in the days ahead," Bass said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Source: Yahoo! News

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