At Raycom-owned ABC station WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Miss., 12 of 105 staffers lost everything when Hurricane Katrina struck their town in 2005. Another 60 sustained major damage to their homes. Yet they all worked the day the beast hit and the next day too.
That dedication is likely one of the reasons that WLOX will collect a DuPont award for its coverage of the hurricane. The station has already received a national Peabody, a national Murrow Award and a regional Emmy for its work covering the storm. “The DuPont looks at the whole body of work and shows we had the commitment to be there for our community, to serve our community,” said Dave Vincent, station manager and news director.
That work didn’t end after the hurricane was downgraded, and certainly not even a few weeks or a month later. In fact, Katrina-related stories still account for 70 percent to 80 percent of the average newscast, Mr. Vincent said. More than 30,000 people are still in temporary trailer housing in the southern part of Mississippi, he said, as an example of the ongoing issues.
During the immediate aftermath of the storm, the station stayed on the air continuously for more than 12 days and kept broadcasting when the storm ripped off the newsroom roof and knocked down one of the towers. “Our building was severely damaged and we never went off the air, and we were able to keep telling the residents what they needed,” Mr. Vincent said.
As the station stayed on air, it delivered information on where to find shelter, food, medicine and other needed supplies. WLOX also reached out to local radio stations to ensure they could carry the station’s signal. The local Fox affiliate even carried WLOX for a few days.
“It was really a Herculean effort on the part of the staff,” Mr. Vincent said. “We were there when the public needed some ray of hope.” The station also became a clearing house for information as local leaders appeared on the air to provide updates, he said.
WLOX has since done away with sports coverage in the early-evening news, and the station’s sportscaster now reports on Katrina survivors and their efforts to deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
WLOX has sold about 60,000 copies of a set of DVDs featuring the station’s storm coverage. A portion of the DVD profits go to a Katrina charity.