During last September’s rash of Florida hurricanes, two Scripps stations were battered but not beaten. WFTS Tampa/St. Petersburg and WPTV West Palm Beach weathered two storms each
During the first hurricane—Frances—WPTV took a direct hit. The storm lingered over the city for 24 hours, lashing the station with 80-mile-per-hour winds. Eventually, the battered roof gave way, and water filled executive offices, editing bays and the entire second floor. WPTV staffers used mops and brooms to push water away from the center of the building, fighting to protect the newsroom, master control, studio and technology center. “There is no class to prepare you for 12 hours of taking on water and three electrical fires,” says VP/General Manager Brian Lawlor. “We were moments from getting knocked off the air.”
After the storm, the station patched up its roof and assessed the damage. Building damages totaled $1.5 million. Wind knocked out the weather radar, costing another $600,000. The station began rebuilding when Hurricane Jeanne struck three weeks later. In total, the station aired live continuous coverage for 10 days in September.
Sister stations sent reinforcements. Cincinnati’s WCPO and Tampa’s WFTS dispatched satellite trucks, and Scripps sent down engineers. When the Tampa area later endured two hurricanes itself, WPTV returned the favors.
The Tampa station didn’t suffer anywhere near the damage WPTV did, but nonstop coverage stretched the operation thin. A construction company was standing by for emergency repairs.
“You’re wondering where your troops are, if everybody’s safe,” says General Manager Bill Carey. “It is really nice to know that people have my back.”
This year, WFTS is publishing a hurricane-preparedness guide to be distributed in grocery stores and other retail outlets. They hope that no one ever has to use it.
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