On September 28, Hurricane Ian, the fifth strongest hurricane in U.S. historical past, made landfall in Southwest Florida, leaving communities devastated and forcing native reporters to cowl one more main local weather disaster.

Journalists at one of many state’s largest shops, the Tampa Bay Times, had been instantly on the scene of the hurricane, the place they lined the death count from storm surges and its aftermath.

Reporter Zack Sampson and photographer Douglas Clifford had been among the many group of Tampa Bay Times’ journalists who reported on Hurricane Ian. They lined the landfall of the storm in Fort Myers, Florida.

To higher perceive what it takes to cowl pure disasters, I spoke with Sampson, Clifford and Tampa Bay Times’ managing editor Carolyn Fox about their reporting methods, security tips and the way they approached overlaying communities impacted by hurricanes.

Preparing to cowl Hurricane Ian

As the landfall crew, Sampson and Clifford’s aim was to be as shut as attainable to the areas most impacted by the storm. As with their earlier protection of hurricanes, the pair arrived in Fort Myers early to make contacts. This included folks in the neighborhood that they’ve recognized as most definitely to be affected by the storm.

Staging their car at a lodge about 12 miles away from Fort Myers Beach, the journalists watched the rotation of the storm and squall traces on radar to determine which space would endure probably the most injury. “Once the landfall takes place, we wait for the wind to drop to roughly 50 miles an hour. That’s when you can usually drive,” stated Clifford.

Their story was printed the day after the storm, and it highlighted absolutely the devastation the hurricane brought about on Fort Myers Beach, which killed 14 people within the metropolis earlier than shifting up by way of Florida and into the Carolinas. 

Humanizing pure disasters

Four or 5 days after the hurricane moved previous Florida, the crew on the Tampa Bay Times met to debate what tales to inform past the preliminary landfall.

Many of the tales printed throughout the fast aftermath had been targeted on the excessive variety of deaths — many from drowning, storm surge and flooding, based on Sampson. The Tampa Bay Times reported around 100 deaths as of Oct. 3. As of Oct. 31, there have been 125 deaths reported in Florida on account of the storm.

“I think the biggest thing was, we looked at what angles we should go at for a second week story,” stated Fox. “[One thing] I feel the Tampa Bay Times does incredibly well is those follow-up stories that maybe other [newspapers] stop paying attention to.”

With the dying toll numbers being reported, the crew needed to attach the faces of actual folks to those numbers and clarify why and the way they died, stated Fox. This was particularly vital for Tampa Bay’s residents to learn, as town has usually missed main hurricanes, inflicting some residents to not take them significantly. 

“They need to understand the severity of something like a storm surge, and that it’s not to be taken lightly,” she stated.

One story Sampson labored on celebrated the lifetime of Mitch Pacyna, a sufferer of Hurricane Ian who was killed throughout a storm surge in Fort Myers. To write the story, Sampson and Clifford labored with search and rescue groups to search out Pacyna’s home, whereas journalists within the newsroom scoured social media for info on the person’s life. 

[Our goal was to] attempt to inform a narrative about the truth that folks died right here as a result of that is frankly what issues to most of our readers — they should know why you evacuate,” stated Sampson. 

Maintaining security

Reporting in pairs is a technique the Tampa Bay Times makes use of for hurricane protection, however it hasn’t all the time labored in that manner, stated Clifford. During previous protection, the Tampa Bay Times discovered that having each a author and photographer collectively helped the journalists make higher security selections within the discipline.

“It gives you a little bit more [courage], a little bit more confidence, when you have somebody to help you navigate, or just somebody there to help you make a decision and decide [for example] whether you’re going to go down this flooded street,” stated Clifford. 

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ tips for overlaying disasters, reporters ought to work in groups of not less than two and ideally three whereas overlaying disasters. It’s additionally vital for these journalists to have the ability to work properly collectively, as overlaying a storm is usually a hectic scenario.

Physically getting ready to exit into the sector is essential to a journalist’s security. This begins with the kind of car they plan to make use of whereas out within the discipline. Most roadways could have as much as 24 inches of water, so having a four-wheel drive car within the disaster zone is essential. Bringing sufficient gas is vital –  Clifford and his crew convey not less than one tank price of gas in protected gasoline cans that received’t leak fumes.

Additionally, the crew brings a hurricane equipment that features a wide range of gadgets that may grow to be important when out within the discipline and when shops and different services are closed. These gadgets embody towing straps, tire plug kits, an air pump, energy inverters, battery chargers, a leap station, rope, a tarp, tape and extra.

To cowl the storm’s landfall, Clifford stated he often picks a lodge made out of concrete and metal that has fewer than 5 tales.

“My experience is all the floors above five stories, the windows start getting blown out, it’s really dangerous,” he stated. “I’ve been in those rooms where I’ve actually had my windows blown out.”

Furthering the story

Outside of Hurricane Ian, the Tampa Bay Times has additionally targeted on reporting the chance of storm surge and flooding to the Tampa Bay space in a particular report known as Rising Threat.

In the report, Sampson and knowledge editor Langston Taylor spoke with over a 100 folks, together with residents, professors, forecasters, insurance coverage specialists, scientists, legal professionals and native authorities officers to know the extent of the hazard that space faces.

“We’ve been doing a lot of coverage of hurricanes around Tampa Bay,” stated Sampson. “We haven’t been hit in a long time and we’ve been focusing on [Tampa Bay’s] vulnerability and danger.” According to the sequence, Tampa Bay stays “among the riskiest areas in America for destruction from hurricanes,” regardless of its a number of latest near-misses.

For the crew on the Tampa Bay Times, reporting that communicates threat and potential hazard is simply as vital as reporting on the affect of hurricanes after landfall with a view to save lives within the occasion of the following main hurricane.

“The mission is [that] the individuals who dwell right here know to take a hurricane risk significantly.” 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash.

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