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Monday, September 01, 2008

WATCHING THE STORM ROLL IN

I've spent the last 24 hours obsessively checking the NOAA website and watching the progress of Hurricane Gustav.

Three years ago, I was doing much the same thing as hurricanes Katrina and Rita stormed towards the gulf coast. Back then, I was working crazy hours while covering the storms affects on the Texarkana and Shreveport area. I spent time hanging out at hotels as evacuees filtered up to the city. I spoke with Red Cross volunteers as they loaded up supplies and drove south. I shot video as evacuees who were stranded at the Superdome finally ended a two day bus trip that included stops in Houston, Dallas, and five other cities.

The people who came off that bus had a look that is hard to describe. Most had blank stares that hinted at the horrors many of them saw during the previous weeks. Almost all the people I spoke with had to step over dead bodies as they made their way to shelter. Some had been victims of violence. When I asked one man how he was holding up, he simply answered, "I'm alone."

These images come back to me as I look at the maps and read the evacuation orders for cities like New Orleans and Beaumont. I think of friends like Darrell who find themselves in the path of the storm. I know of the great destruction and misery that will likely visit thousands of people. My prayers are with those people tonight.

The good news is that Gustav appears to be weakening it nears landfall. Perhaps I will awake on Monday and learn that Gustav is more annoying than deadly. That's about the best outcome anyone can hope for at this point.

Of course, there is the selfish side of me that wishes I was heading east with a photographer right now to cover the storm and it's aftermath. It's one of those sick things about journalists: you want to be where the action is, even if the action is in a place you shouldn't be.

Indeed, one of the coolest things about being a journalist is getting to witness things that few others get to see. You get to see cities that have been completely evacuated. You get to visit locations that are guarded by barbed wire and security cameras. You get a front row seat for the rally/concert/trial that everyone wants to see. It's a shallow reason for liking journalism, but, well...

This time, I'm thousands of miles from the action, and the closest I'll probably get to the story is interviewing local volunteers who are headed south to help with the recovery efforts. But for the next few days, I'll be looking southward, praying for my friends, and wishing that I was there.

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