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When hurricanes come, journalists get to work

September 16, 2018

The wind wailed with such force that it was a struggle to keep standing. Nearby, a sailboat twisted on the rocks. Stonington harbor felt the force of Hurricane Gloria on Sept. 27, 1985.

Hurricane Gloria was a powerful Category 3 storm as it roared up the East Coast from North Carolina, but fortunately it weakened to a Category 1 by the time it smacked Connecticut. Still, it was strong and powerful — three people died in the state and thousands lost power for a week or more.

I was a reporter at The Day of New London at the time, my beat was the defense industry. I had to be out in the storm, covering the news, along with other reporters and photographers deployed along the shore. That morning I made sure my children were safe and went to work.

This is what journalists do. You can’t report the news by phone alone. You’ve got to be there, eye witnesses.

If I had just called the emergency shelter in Stonington, I would not have been able to describe the force of the wind nor hear evacuees gamely singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary.”

In those days, there was no Twitter for instant feeds, not even a website to constantly update. We were gathering the news for readers of that afternoon’s newspaper and the next day.

Now coverage is instantaneous and — I’ll admit this — at times can seem silly. Broadcast reporters stationed along the North Carolina shore didn’t have much visuals as Hurricane Florence, the size of four Ohios, approached last week.

On one cable news show, my husband Jim and I watched a reporter standing in ankle-deep water breathlessly tell viewers a hurricane was coming ... sometime. I giggled. That’s hardly dangerous, I said. But the programs needed something to show and viewers did want to see what was happening miles and miles away.

Forecasters warned of Hurricane Irene’s approach on Aug. 28, 2011. The afternoon before was eerily quiet as Jim and I sat in our backyard. I looked at the canopy of oak trees and wondered which ones would be felled by the storm. Who knew exactly what to expect, but I was managing editor of The News-Times then and had to be at work.

Rain came hard that Sunday morning and Jim gallantly insisted on driving me to work. (He’s a retired journalist so he knows not to question heading into a storm.) Visibility was low along I-84, and as the wind drove the rain sideways I could hardly make out Lake Zoar to the right.

We reached the newsroom and I put Jim to work, finding out from Danbury Airport how much rain had fallen so far. We got the news online quickly for readers. Other editors arrived, reporters began calling in news or tweeting from where they were stationed.

Irene was a tropical storm by the time it reached Connecticut, but managed to wreck havoc with falling trees and limbs yanking down power lines. We were among the thousands without power for a week. The next year Superstorm Sandy struck and four months later a blizzard buried Western Connecticut in about 18 inches of snow.

Just like emergency responders, public safety officials, hospital personnel and others with critical jobs, journalists leave the safety of their homes when severe weather threatens. It’s our job to report the news for you.

Journalists working along the wide path of Hurricane Florence in the mid-Atlantic states were out there last week. Eventually, the storm came.

Jacqueline Smith is opinion editor of The News-Times and The Norwalk Hour. Email her at jsmith@hearstmediact.com.

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