While all the news outlets in New Orleans rose to the occasion and then some when Hurricane Katrina hit their town in 2005, Belo’s CBS station WWL-TV will forever be known as the one station that broadcast continuously throughout the storm. That included 14 days of continuous storm coverage that started two days before Katrina hit and went on to track the devastation as well as the rescue efforts and the slow response time by emergency agencies.
The DuPont Award recognizes WWL’s overall body of work covering the biggest news story of 2005. Though staying on-air at the same time that 40 percent of station personnel had lost homes played a major role in the award, so did the ongoing coverage weeks and months after landfall.
The station’s coverage since the storm has included several investigative stories on levee failures along with a series of reports looking at the dikes in Holland and whether they might provide some answers for New Orleans in the future, said Mark Swinney, special projects director for WWL. “It’s still going on, and it will for years,” he said. “The comprehensiveness of the coverage is what won the award for us. We have looked at the impact on residents, impact on business, impact on future survival of this area because of the questions about our levee protection systems.”
WWL also assigned a reporter specifically to follow the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in helping people get into temporary trailers and then back into their homes. “We looked at why the trailers didn’t get here any faster,” Mr. Swinney said. “We are still working on the fact that the federal dollars that were sent down here to be distributed to homeowners to get back on their feet is still dragging. We are here 16 months after the storm and the state contractor who was hired to distribute the money has only sent out 87 checks-and they have had 88,000 applications for this help. And that is an everyday thing.”
The station has also won a Peabody and a Murrow for its work covering Katrina. “It’s going to be a story for a long, long time,” Mr. Swinney said.