Wednesday, July 18

After Andrew

It's hurricane season. Time for my thoughts to turn to Andrew and Al.

"Andrew" was a hurricane. "Al" is Al Sunshine, an old friend and co-worker (and yes, that is his real name!), a long-time, big-time, much-honored (and often-hyphenated) reporter at WCIX (now WFOR) in Miami. He has handled the "Shame on You" consumer problem-solving franchise for the station for more than 15 years. I was proud to be his news director for a time.

Come August 24th it will be 15 years since Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of South Florida. I don't want to compare "my hurricane was bigger than yours" stories with Katrina survivors—but mine was. Andrew was a more powerful storm—a “Category Five.” It was the breach of the levees that did such horrible damage in Katrina. We got the wind—and the rain—and the wind—and the storm surge—and the wind!

As I said, WFOR was WCIX back in those days—the CBS owned-and-operated station serving the Miami area. The station was hard-hit: satellite dishes blown away, part of the roof in GM Allen Shaklan's office blown off, cars damaged. The station transmitter tower collapsed and we were off the air until we could jury-rig an antenna on another station's stick. We were left without water and with only limited generator power for days.

As bad as it was, station employees had it worse. Many (yours truly included) lost their homes. Several, living without food and water and power, with no place to go, brought their families to the station to sleep in the air-conditioned studios.

CBS came to our rescue. The other O-and-Os sent loaner equipment, trucks and manpower to help us out. The staff of a bombed-out nearby restaurant was hired and food was catered 24/7 for weeks. Bottled water was brought in—and the empty jugs were hauled to a lagoon out back and filled so we'd have water to flush the toilets. We were prepared with hand pumps so we could refuel news vehicles at gas stations that had no electricity.

And CBS flew in teams of "expediters" to help board up homes—to get tarps to cover lost roofs—to set up generators for power—to locate contractors—to help find temporary housing (in at least one case to get an RV for one WCIX family to live in)—to work with insurance companies—to get us back on our feet.

I wound up staying at (of all places) the "Bonaventure Resort and Spa" on a golf course in a trendy part of Ft. Lauderdale for a couple of weeks. Thanks, CBS!

Think about it. In what felt like a "war zone" (military reservists called up to direct traffic, curfews, people guarding their homes with shotguns) CBS was able to find generators! And where do you come up with truckloads of bottled water when the nearest potable water is 30 or 40 miles away? Amazing!

Some time later, when life was approaching normalcy, a hot-shot CBS producer took our video, shot interviews with our people, added a John Mellencamp song and produced an in-house thank-you note that was sent to all CBS outposts around the world. Al Sunshine kept a copy and a while back provided me a dub.

I think every person interviewed is a WCIX employee. I appear a couple of times—most notably at the end (I always want the last word). I'm the big guy in the dark blue shirt. Al Sunshine appears a couple of times: first in a red windbreaker, looking shocked, standing in front of what's left of his home.

He sent me the video and warned me not to watch it unless I was prepared to shed a tear.

I watched it, and I did weep: not for me, not for my plight. That all ironed itself out. I wept remembering how many of us had our dreams swept away by Andrew. You can see it in their—in our—faces.

Was this fifteen years ago—or fifteen minutes ago?

I forget.

video

In the weeks ahead, as we get closer to the Andrew anniveresary, I'll write more about how dreams are lost--and found.

"Who am I to say

What needs to be done?

I'm just nobody,

Another lost one,

Caught between what's left

And what needs to be done...

Now more than ever."