Hurricane Andrew Part 2

by AK - July 31, 2013

Part 1

Thursday Midday Bedtime Story: HURRICANE ANDREW (part 2. During the Storm)

Somewhere around 7pm Boy Gary came back to the station for a last look and pep talk to the troops. He was dressed more casually than I’d ever seen him. It was the only time I think I ever saw him without suspenders on. The wind was whipping pretty good by then a tiny corner window that apparently didn’t have a shutter on it in the sales department had broken, and wind was streaming in so violently that the locked glass doors to the sales department at the end of the hallway on the second floor were bowing. I was seriously afraid that at any moment the glass would bend to the point of shattering, sending shards like daggers down the main hallway of the studios. And Gary Bruce, currently no longer tied to the tracks in front of a freight train, jumped into action by going downstairs, grabbing an 8x4 piece of plywood, a hammer and a box of nails and boarded that doorway up in a most unprofessional way. There was no finesse to where those nails went; he pounded them into the walls and frame any which way. And when he ran out of nails, he got screws and a drill. Good for him. Although most of us probably would have wished that when the storm was over, and the entire sales team was back in their area, he’d put the board back and screw them in there (except maybe you, @RickAlpern ).

By 11 pm we were really humming as a team. Chuck Meyer was absolutely outstanding as the main anchor, pivoting between reporters from all the locations around South Florida, the public information officers from police departments all over, meteorologists at the national hurricane center, Bob Soper, and talking with co-lead anchors Henry Barrow and the others. He CAPTAINED that chair and was smooth and as natural as I’d ever heard him.

Around that time I decided to take a break. Well, actually it was my stomach that suggested it… the 2lbs of fig newtons, peanut butter and cheez-n-crackers were starting to brew. Since the only men’s room of the building was on the first floor, the powers that be opened up Mike Disney’s palatial office and private bathroom for us to use, and I did with severity and unguarded abandon. Then I took a nap on the floor of his office on the cushions of his couch.

About 2 and a half hours later I woke up, grabbed coffee, and headed back to the control room. Things were starting to get really nasty out there. And the TV stations started or had already lost power or antennas or both. The wind was beating against the metal shutters of the newsroom that looked out at the bay so loud it actually DID sound like a train. We could no longer open the door leading outside to take a look without having someone hold on to you, and the door.. but you could see the white caps hitting the seawall and washing onto the Channel 7 helipad. You couldn’t look more than a few seconds… the wind and rain was sideways and it hurt and would whistle past you, up the stairs through the building and push on closed doors.

And we just kept rolling on. Once the TV stations were down, and power was out for most, we knew it was bad.. but we didn’t really understand until the calls started coming in. We’d offered to take calls sporadically during the day from folks if they had questions about preparing or evacuations and having them talk to Bob, or the guys from FPL or whatever.. but somewhere around 3:30am, without prompting or asking for them, we started to get calls. From people in South Dade. Fearing for their lives. “I’m under a mattress in my bathtub.. the roof is off”. - “We’re hiding in a closet; it’s the only room in the house that doesn’t have windows or an exterior wall.” - “My kids are crying; the wind is so loud I can barely hear them.”

Thinking back to it now, 20 years later, I get a little lump in my throat. But that night, we were all in “producer mode” and just kept working, while Chuck and Henry and Elaine Ettore and Robert Pankow and Dan Stewart and Jennifer Rehm and Katherine Lister, and Andy Kalb were in “news mode”. So they’d talk to the callers not just as news radio broadcasters, but they talked to them like people. Like their therapists. Like their lives depended on it. And my guess is, that for some of them on the phone, and for many more listening, it kinda did. WIOD was the only lifeline for a lot of people. And at some point around 3:30am, as we could see a cat 4 (now we know it was a cat 5) getting ready to slam into Dade county, we all stopped doing our jobs for WIOD, and started doing our jobs for the people who were out there in the storm, huddled in the darkness, holding on to the one thing that kept them informed on what was happening and when they could expect it to stop. There was a sense of urgency now in what we were all doing at 4:30am then there had been at any point thus far in the 21 hours or so we’d been doing this non-stop. And before we knew it, the storm had passed, and there was daylight on the horizon, both literally and figuratively. And we still had absolutely no idea just how bad it had actually been. There was still no TV to speak of.. No helicopters or photos showing damage. You only knew how bad it had been by what you could see in your own vision. And we only knew by what people were calling in to tell us. Folks in Broward called to tell us that some of them still had power, or that trees were down. And folks in the Gables and South Miami told us they had no power and that the roads were so littered with toppled trees they couldn’t leave the house.

At WIOD, we ventured outside sometime around 11 am or so. Weary, tired, stretching and yawning and wanting fresh air, Manny, Marvin and I ventured outside while Alex Rodriguez worked the board while Chuck and Bob took a nap and Henry and Elaine anchored and talked to callers about what they were seeing. Out the back door of the building, rubbing up against the seawall in a corner of the building was a yacht. A HUGE yacht. Had to be 100 foot at least. So we climbed aboard. Teak wood walls and leather furniture all plastered with seawater and plant materials. Every window broken. Every wine glass and beer mug and china plate smashed and shattered in heaps on the floor. Furniture broken and battered. Soaked papers and ruined pictures in fames in an inch of water. We did a quick run through to make sure noone was aboard and hi tailed it off there.. Who knew if it was going to sink or not, and we certainly didn’t want to be accused of looting, especially since the North Bay Village police were around using our building as their HQ.

We went back inside and continued the day, everyone working in shifts between 2 hour naps.

At some point late in the afternoon, I saw Dan Stewart who showed me the inside of Chuck’s car that had been stuck on the beach. It was plastered inside and out with sand an inch deep. In the cup holders, in the vents of the ac, in every crack of the dashboard console. There was sand in the cassette player of the radio. Sand in the glove compartment. Not long after that I think Dan went up with Channel 7 in the helicopter to do a fly over parts of south dade to see damage. At one point Dan starts freaking out on the air during a report.. “Oh my god.. We’re over… What are we over?” (he asks the pilot) “We’re over Miami Seaquarium and there are… are those? Is that?” (asking the pilot again).. “There are dead dolphins all in the pools and water and beach from this storm. It looks like hundreds of them” The only thing missing was a Hindenberg-esque “Oh the huge manatee!” It turned out not to be true I’m 98% sure. It was pieces of roofs and palm fronds which I guess from 400 feet in the air could look like dead dolphins. Hell, you’ve seen his picture.. Get a look at the thickness of those glasses?

At around 11pm I got a ride to the bank garage, got my 1987 Honda CRX, and went to my parents house in Pembroke Pines and slept there. There wasn’t much damage.. Some trees down in neighborhoods.. That’s about it. I slept for a good 7 hours, then drove back to WIOD. The real storm, Andrew’s Aftermath was about to begin.

NEXT TIME: Part 3 – After the storm and the Bryan Norcross myth

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