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Home Features What It’s Like to Report on a Hurricane: The Becks on Covering...

Photo caption: Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Editor’s note: Tobin Beck is the assistant professor of journalism and political science at Concordia University, Nebraska, and his wife, Ellen, is the faculty adviser to The Sower. In 1992, the Becks covered Hurricane Andrew from Florida as UPI reporters. In light of Hurricane Matthew hitting Florida, The Sower presents this feature as a different perspective on natural disasters. You can read articles from 1992 by Tobin here and by Ellen here.

 

by Tobin Beck

 

On Aug. 24, 1992, Ellen and I were United Press International staffers working from our third-floor apartment in west Miami because the UPI bureau in the evacuation zone had lost power earlier in the morning. We still had power at our apartment until shortly after Hurricane Andrew made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane at about 4:45 a.m., knocking down electrical transmission lines and towers as well as all of the Miami television transmitter towers (it was weird as one by one the TV stations went fuzzy and then off the air).

After the power went out we still had phone lines, though, and I was able to gather information and file dispatches. Ellen held a flashlight over my shoulder as I was typed on a Radio Shack TRS-80 laptop to file dispatches to the Washington news desk. Our son JT was 3 months old, and we had moved his crib to an interior bathroom where he would be safe if the windows blew out, as we later found had happened in the evacuated news bureau, despite its hurricane shutters.

The hurricane battered us for about five hours, until around 10 a.m. JT slept through the whole storm (lucky kid!) while Ellen and I both worked intensely. The apartment building held together pretty well and our windows stayed intact.

However, when I went outside, I found two 20-foot-tall trees had blown down on top of my car. Luckily I had a hand saw (that had come in the mail as a Home Depot promotion!) and was able to saw the trees into a few pieces and push them off of the car, which was drivable despite some damage to the roof.

After making sure Washington was up to date, I drove to the bureau at 22nd and 22nd at the edge of Miami and Coral Gables, navigating around downed trees, signs, other debris and power lines. The bureau had no power, the windows were blown out, and we had water damage inside. But we still had working phones (at least temporarily), and I spent the rest of the day making and coordinating staff assignments; reporting, editing and filing; and helping Washington coordinate coverage of President Bush’s visit to survey the damage (Helen Thomas traveled with Bush).

Power went back on at our apartment later in the afternoon. Ellen stayed at the apartment, still working but also taking care of JT and hosting brother-in-law Don Noe, chief meteorologist for Miami CBS affiliate WPLG-TV. Noe’s house in south Miami sustained moderate damage but would be without power for six weeks (and without cable TV for six months), so he used our apartment to shower, rest and change clothes.

For Ellen and me, covering Hurricane Andrew and its aftermath comprised three of the most intense weeks of our journalism careers, exceeded only by coverage of 9/11 nine years later.

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