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Intersection: How Public Radio Covered Hurricane Irma

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This visible light image of Hurricane Irma was captured by NOAA's GOES East satellite as it strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane in the Central Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 5 at 7:45 a.m. EDT

Hurricane Irma carved a path of destruction up the Florida Peninsula, knocking out power, damaging roofs, toppling trees and setting off destructive tornadoes.  As of last week the official death toll stood at 50, and it could climb.

For some reporters in the public radio network, Irma was their first experience covering a major hurricane.  Jessica Meszaros, reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU in Fort Myers and Ryan Benk, reporter and Host of Indie Endeavor on WJCT in Jacksonville, joined Intersection to discuss how they reported Irma and its aftermath in Southwest and Northeast Florida. 

Meszaros said the day before Irma made landfall, the news team was told the forecast showed Irma making a direct hit on Fort Myers.

“And I remember four of us just looking up at each other, astonished, and wondering what our fates were,” said Meszaros.

“It never occurred to us to not be on the air and be there for our listeners and stick it out, but I do remember there was that sense of, ‘wow, what does that mean, will we have a home town when we get out of this’,” she said.

WJCT’s Ryan Benk said the last time Jacksonville experienced the kind of flooding Hurricane Irma brought was in 1864, and the last time a hurricane as powerful as Irma make its way to Jacksonville was Hurricane Dora in 1964.

“The national weather service meteorologist that was embedded here in Jacksonville described flooding right as it was happening as a ‘once in 150 years type of rain event’,” Benk said.

WJCT’s news director Jessica Palombo was coordinating coverage from her home.

“She had to be rescued because the flood waters had surrounded her house,” said Benk.

“So I think we may double check our surroundings and our plans to ensure we’re places that are on a little bit higher ground,” next time a hurricane hits the city, he said.




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About Matthew Peddie

Matt Peddie