Labor Day—three years ago. I was sitting in our Culver City studios at NPR West, and the word was spreading that New Orleans was in real trouble. Hurricane Katrina had come and gone, but, a couple of days later, the surge of water was just beginning to really take down the levees. Trying to cover something like this is part tightrope act, part Rolodex. It's enormously complicated by the infrastructure damage—the phones go down; the power goes down; it's tough to file for the radio.
I reached my friend John Burnett, the NPR reporter who is normally based in Austin, TX. John had a working phone somehow, and he fed live reports to our show of the devastation that was truly beginning to emerge. It was riveting to hear.
We are fortunate that unlike Katrina—which grew bigger and stronger than most expected—Gustav seems to be turning out to be not as bad as was feared. It arrived on land as a Category Two storm, and pretty soon was downgraded to Category One.
That was still big enough to derail plans for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. We covered Senator McCain's hasty scramble to re-do his schedule, and decisions by President Bush and Vice President Cheney to forego their planned appearances. No one wanted to send any "we-weren't-paying-attention-to-Katrina" reminders. But that still left the problem of how to get storm coverage from the area.
We thought of trying to call some evacuees, and then reconsidered to go after some of the people who stayed behind. The Associated Press mentioned a conversation with a local man sipping whiskey and Diet Coke outside a place called Johnny White's Sports Bar on Bourbon Street. We found the number and called. The interview opened the show and we went back to them a couple of more times today.
At the end of he show I declared Johnny's the New Orleans news bureau for Day to Day.
The next time I get to the city, I'm going to stop in and buy them a round. You need help telling a hurricane story, and we got it there.