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From the Field

When I was covering the Michael Jackson trial for KTTV/KCOP I got to know a terrific reporter named Brian Andrews. He works for WFOR TV Miami-Fort Lauderdale. In the days just prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, Brian was sent to New Orleans to cover the story for the Florida station. Many of you may have seen him being tossed around by the wind as he ran across a sidewalk and ducked behind a garbage can in order to show viewers the intensity of the storm. He also had some great interviews. His work was all over CNN. Brian wanted to share some of his feelings with us so he started a blog for this website. We got two pieces from him and then all hell broke loose in New Orleans. When the power went out we lost touch. Interestingly, some people were able to get messages through to their friends and family using text messaging. Brian got one through to me saying he had lost communication and would continue writing when things settled down. He did. Here are the three pieces he sent from his coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

BRIAN'S BLOG: After the Storm!
By Brian Andrews

What a crazy few weeks it's been. From Atlanta for a murder trial, to South Florida for the arrival of Katrina, to New Orleans for the rest of the Katrina, to driving all night from New Orleans to Houston for a flight home, and back to Atlanta for the end of the murder trial. I'm sitting in my hotel room in midtown Atlanta and my head is spinning. I promised Hal I'd try to write something more about our Katrina experience when I had some time to decompress, so here it goes.

If I rewind my wind to two monday's ago... I remember sleeping on the floor of the 5th floor ballroom at the New Orleans Sheraton with hundreds of other guests who couldn't get out in advance of the storm. They evacuated all of us out of our rooms and made us stay together in the ballroom. I remember waking up, walking to a window, and seeing the lights of the city still on. The wind and rain was coming in and we were hearing on the radio that the worst would be upon us by daybreak. By 5am, the power was out.. and the hotel was on generator. The phones were still working. The elevators were not.

I was sitting on the floor on a pay phone doing phoners for my station and the other CBS O&O's. While other news crews had picked up and moved to Baton Rouge or Biloxi, we decided to stay in New Orleans to ride out the storm. Just hours earlier, my photographer, Kevin Martsells, and I had been at the Superdome watching the first of a crowd that would eventually exceed 20,000, head inside to take shelter from the storm. It was just before daybreak and we made our way down to the lobby to watch Katrina roll into town. My aircard was still working and I tried to email my assignment desk some photos we took before sun-up of the storm coming on on Canal Street. I managed to get 4 photos in (they looked like big blobs of rain) and then the connection died. Just before 8am ET, Kevin and I decided we would go outside and see what we could shoot. Kevin met up with a still photographer from the New York Times. I was doing a phoner for our station in Miami and they didn't want to wait, so Kevin and the NYT guy went out and started shooting tape. It was bad, but not as bad as it would eventually get. 10 minutes later, I wrapped up my phoner and met Kevin and the NYT guy in the motor lobby.

They were drenched and had just come back from going around the corner from the hotel to shoot some video. They got a really great shot of a little bird struggling in the wind... and lots of storm debris flying down the streets of New Orleans. As we headed back out of the front door of the hotel, the Sheraton's motor lobby had become like a giant wind tunnel. It was as if someone had turned on a firehose, blasting the water from Canal Street, through the motor lobby, out onto a back alley. Kevin, who had just been out there a few minutes earlier, knew there was a small stairwell on the edge of the building where he could shoot and be shielded from the wind. I told Kevin when we got to the door that we needed to be really careful, watch each other's back for flying debris, and if it got really bad, to just can it and get back inside. Kevin made it across the wind tunnel to the opposite side of the motor lobby first. He started rolling tape. I made it from the door, past a firetruck and had to struggle in the wind and rain just to walk 10 feet. We all ran to the stairwell to regroup. Next, we decided to go out into the street to see what we could see. I had Kevin watching my back as I forced my way out into the wind and rain. About half way down the sidewalk, I realized I needed to take cover because bits and pieces of roofing material and who knows what else was whizzing by me. I saw a mailbox and ran for it. Using the mailbox as cover, I looked around, did a quick standup and ran back to the motor lobby. Now, I'm about 150 pounds. As I got back toward the building, the wind pushed me back, knocked my feet out from under me, and dropped me flat on my face. I picked myself up and Kevin and I raced back into the hotel because now it was really starting to get scary. As soon as we got back into the hotel, I watched from the pay phone bank as a gust of wind shattered the brick facade of an adjacent building..crashing down on a sports car and an SUV. Glass started breaking and flying down the street. Stuff was flying everywhere. It was the wildest thing I've ever seen. It looked like a raging blizzard without the snow. The wind-driven rain was white in appearance... mixed in with who knows what. Buildings were crumbling, metal siding was flying, things were crashing to the ground, car alarms were going off... and the storm itself had the roar of a jet engine... and a freight train.

By noon, things started to clear up. I called Bryan Norcross in our weather office in Miami and he told me the worst had passed us. We jumped in our rental car, parked next to a police cruiser with its back window blown out, and started driving to the only uplink I knew was left in town: WWL. We drove over downed powerlines, storm debris, broken tree limbs, bricks, metal, you name it. We turned off Canal, which was now slightly flooded and headed down the edge of the French Quarter to WWL. When we got to the back parking lot, we looked through the window and saw the power was still on, the phones were ringing, and the scanners were squawking. But, nobody was there. I knew from the night before that everyone from WWL had gone to the Hyatt near the Superdome. So we raced over there to tell them their station was OK, their uplink was in good shape, and ask if we could please feed some tape. As we pulled into the Hyatt, we could see the entire rear side of the building had been blown out. Linens, bedsheets, furniture, just hanging there.... and the water was starting to rise. We got to the motor lobby and found one of the WWL managers. We told him the station was fine and still had power. We offered to drive him over, but he grabbed a few other staffers, jumped into one of their SUV's and we all drove over together. We all walked in the backdoor, ran to the master control area, came up on IA6 and started feeding whatever we had. We popped our DVC Pro tape out of Kevin's camera, slammed it into a machine, started rewinding, and rolled what we had for the world. The phone lines at WWL still worked, so I was able to get Miami on the line to confirm they were rolling. We fed back the storm video, the bird, the debris flying everywhere, our standup at the Sheraton motor lobby, and everything else we had. Little did I know but CNN was cherry picking the feed... and before I'd even had a chance to call my own family to tell them I was OK, they were rolling the tape of me in my yellow rain slicker, getting blown around and knocked on my face by Katrina's fury.

The tape generated a lot of emails and calls. I have no regrets. I was sent to cover a storm. We're in the TV business... and standing in the wind and rain is what we do. We're were smart about it though, always had each other's backs, and were paying close attention to what was whizzing by us. We only stayed out as long as necessary to show the viewers what it was really like at quarter past 8 in the morning that day Katrina blew through. Some liked it, some hated it, some griped and complained, others were shocked by the power of nature our report was able to effectively demonstrate. I was told the CNN anchor who introduced the tape made a crack at the end of the clip as if I was stupid. I was a little annoyed. Don't editorialize unless you've been there... and I doubt that anchor had ever been in a category 4. What was on tape is what really happened. We stand by our efforts to document nature's fury at 8:15 in the morning in New Orleans and to share that experience with our viewers.

That night we worked out of WWL until it was clear it just wasn't safe to stay and the WWL staff left the French Quarter facility for Baton Rouge. We hooked up with the crews from CBS Network who had set up temporary camp at the Hilton. People were walking around town in a daze. We were already hearing horror stories from inside the SuperDome. We moved down to Canal Street and the decision was made by CBS to move someplace safer. The levy had been breached and there was a report that downtown New Orleans could by under 12 feet of water in a few hours. Plus, we were hearing reports of carjackings, stabbings, and wild looters. We moved to the top of I-10 near Tchopitoulous, slept in our cars, and regrouped for morning live shots. Eventually we would move to Kenner where we would catch up with other crews from WFOR and CBS Newspath.

This just covers Monday and Tuesday 2 weeks ago... I haven't even gotten to the dead bodies, the filth, the human torment, the elderly people in tears, the animals roaming the streets looking for their owners.... the people running up to our rental cars begging for rides out of town...

I'll save that for another entry... but let me just say we had one hell of a great team in New Orleans: Photographers Kevin Martsells, Manny Alvarez, Tim McFarland, Rudy Marshall, David Bernard (our new weatherman) and Mike Kirsch (one of our finest reporters).

Brian Andrews

By Brian Andrews

You know it's going to be bad when the networks start pulling their trucks out. At 7pm tonight, all of them were heading for Baton Rouge. With the big trucks gone, CNN is using a videophone to get out. We're looking to WWL for help out of their earth station. There's fiber at the Super Dome, but no one can figure out how to use it. We managed to get a few look lives out before WWL shut down their studio on the edge of the French Quarter and headed for higher ground. Now, we wait. It's going to be a long night. What may be one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S. is coming ashore in just a few hours and I have a front row seat. While other crews have hightailed it out of town, we decided to stay. With no trucks or uplinks, it looks like lots of phoners until the floodwaters clear and the trucks return.

Tonight, I'm sitting in the corner of the Ballroom at the New Orleans Sheraton. I'm looking around at more than 500 people (in just the section of ballroom I'm in) who will be spending the night on the floor (with pillows and comforters of course) to ride out the storm. The ballroom is on the 5th floor so the floodwaters shouldn't be a problem. I'm exhausted. We've spent the entire day running around doing packges and look lives. We flew in Saturday afternoon and immediately started working on a package for 10pm and 11pm. We got stuck in the contraflow traffic and had to make our way into town through the back streets. We shot a lot of our own tape, then popped by WWL to dub some aerials and some other b-roll. We cut the package in the WWL breakroom, then drove down to the edge of the Mississippi River to find the Newspath truck to feed it. We ended up doing look lives for a couple of the CBS O&O's, plus a piece for Newspath, plus our 10pm and 11pm newscasts in Miami. Then, it was off to the hotel. T

At 7am, we were at it again, grabbing some food at the hotel (what I thought would be our last real meal of the day) and heading out to the truck for morning live shots. We did an hour at 8am and another at 11am. In between the shows, we ran out and shot some fresh tape. My photographer, Kevin Martsells, jumped through the fence onto I-10 to get some great traffic jam shots and grabbed some sound from a few motorists stuck in the heavy traffic heading out of town. We ran back to the truck, bulk fed the material, then fronted all of it in a series of live shots that took up most of the hour. From 12pm until 2pm, we drove around getting new video for our afternoon package, and raced over to one of the last trucks in town to work on an afternoon package. We fed look lives for the O&O's and a few of our other affiliate friends, then headed off to the hotel to find food and come up with a game plan. The hotel had slipped a note under our doors to let us know we wouldn't be able to sleep in our rooms. Instead, we're all camping out in the ballroom, together. We grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant, then ran to the ballroom to shoot a bunch of walk and talks. We drove over to WWL to feed them out since they're the only uplink still operating. On the drive over to the station, my photographer grabbed some quick video of the streets of New Orleans BEFORE Katrina. I'm glad we got the tape. I want to compare the shots when it's all said and done.

WWL was down to a skeleton crew when we arrived. It had been a very long day for everyone in that newsroom, but they were all in great moods and eager to help. When we got our tape out, the News Director asked us to front some of our material for them from their set to help them fill the time. We were glad to help. They told me they were shutting down the newsroom at 10:30 and moving to higher ground. We got out of there and headed back to the hotel. Now, here I am, sitting at my laptop, thinking about how we got here.

I'm thinking about my house in Miami Shores which is still a mess from Katrina's arrival in South Florida Thursday. I lost two trees and didn't have power when I jumped in the car Saturday afternoon to catch the flight to New Orleans from MIA. I was in Atlanta at the start of the week covering the Butch Hinton Murder Trial. He's accused of killing an Emory University student from Miami 11 years ago in Atlanta. We cut short our coverage of the trial to come back to South Florida in time for Katrina. We did a 6pm liveshot from the courthouse in Decatur, then raced to Hartsfield for a 7:30 flight. We made it, but only because the flight had been delayed by an hour. The next morning, Photographer Manel Coleau and I were sent to Ft. Lauderdale for what ended up being a 16 hour shift to cover Katrina. We were up against a building at Las Olas and A1A and the storm came crashing ashore during the early evening hours. The storm was a category 1 when it hit South Florida. 7 people died. The next day we were in Homestead covering the floods left behind from Katrina. 24-hours later, I was on a plane to New Orleans. Now I wonder, how long will it be before I'm on a plane heading back to Miami?

So, I'll try to catch an hour in between phoners for WFOR, CBS Radio, and the Weather Channel. I love having a front row seat to history. I just hope this one isn't as bad as they're saying it's going to be.

Brian Andrews is an Anchor/Reporter at WFOR, the CBS O&O in Miami. He travels extensively for the station covering the big national and international stories. Brian met Hal covering the Michael Jackson Trial in Santa Maria. Isn't it amazing how other people's misfortune brings nice people together!

BRIAN'S BLOG: PART TWO KATRINA 2:41AM ET You know you've made it big when your friends from other markets are emailing you and calling you to say they saw you in a cutaway or some b-roll on CNN, The Weather Channel, etc. It also brings people out of the woodwork you haven't heard from in years... including some girl you had the hots for when you were 14 and spent your summers on the Jersey Shore (She emailed to say she's married with two kids, and was watching with her husband.) The ballroom here at the Sheraton is quiet, for the most part. The TV is on in the background, people are snoring, little dogs are yelping, and yes, some large woman sleeping two blankets away from me just cut the cheese in her slumber. How nice. I just got up to look out the window. It's coming down pretty hard. You can see the wind sweeping the rain down a deserted Canal Street. There's a billboard next to the hotel that seems to be vibrating. I'm sure the giant panels on that thing will be the first to go when we start getting the sustained hurricane force winds. I'm getting the munchies, but have nothing to eat. I just did my 3rd cup of coffee. My shooter is catching a cat nap. I told him I'd like to leave the hotel around 4am and go check out the flooding. I called over to WWL to see if anybody was still in their building to feed tape. Look's like they're all at LSU now for their coverage. Doesn't look like I'll be getting any tape out of them for a while. Oh, gotta go file a phoner.