The surprise flooding also forced local TV stations to improvise a bit yesterday as reporters and editors worked 18 hours days to handle the ever-changing story.
Normally this time of year, the Atlanta-based Weather Channels’ Jim Cantore is standing wind-whipped on the Gulf or Atlantic coast reporting on an incoming hurricane. Instead, Monday night, he was in a canoe in Buckhead, pointing out a car up to its roof in the muddy waters of Peachtree Creek.
“This is surreal, amazing, amazing, especially when you consider this is not a tropical event,” he told viewers.
Cantore said Tuesday it’s the worst storm he’s covered in Atlanta since the Blizzard of 1993, and the only difference between the floods and rain here and the floods and rain of the scores of hurricanes he’s covered over the years is “the rain in hurricanes is sideways. This was straight down.”
Tuesday night he planned to cover the Atlanta storm from Vinings, probably the closest-to-home natural disaster he’s covered in his career. He’ll be at the Chattahoochee River, about a mile and a half from his home, watching the river flow at a rate he said is “just phenomenal – fifty nine point five thousand cubic feet a second!”
He said for The Weather Channel the story still has legs though the rain has relented and there was even sunshine Tuesday. “This isn’t clear clean water we’re talking about,” Cantore said. “You’ve got mud and a lot of damage. It’s going to take a lot of clean up to get life back to normal.”
Nobody pre-empted primetime coverage last night of shows such as “House” and “Dancing With the Stars,” but there were plenty of “cut ins” and “screen squeezes” to get info to viewers of school closings and traffic problems.
WGCL-TV dumped “People’s Court” at 5 p.m.and Katie Couric’s “CBS Evening News” yesterday to focus on the local story. This morning, the show started at 4:30 a.m. to help people figure out commutes with so many roads closed.
“Our game plan was to be on the air as much as we can,” said news director Steve Schwaid. “The challenge yesterday was the flooding was happening everywhere. Everywhere reporters went, there was a story to tell. That’s a pretty large story to get your hands around.”
Early on, when lightning prevented live trucks from sending live satellite feeds, WSB-TV reporters used the Web and other stations had make do with phone interviews with their reporters. Helicopters weren’t able to do aerial views until later afternoon when the rains let up.
No news crews got trapped by rising waters though Schwaid said there was a close call with one crew in Douglas County. At one point, he said a veteran photographer Everett Bevelle simply set up a camera and did reporting himself.
Schwaid was especially proud of iconic video WGCL got in Powder Springs of a house fire which also included a fire truck submerged in water. “This was a contradiction of images,” he said.
“This has been incredibly intense,” said John Gerard, the new Commuter Dude at WXIA-TV. “There were divers on I-20 today. Those are words you’d never think you’d ever see together!”
Viewers responded, seeking the latest news yesterday both online and on TV.
More than twice the normal number of people caught the 6 p.m. news on WSB-TV, said general manger Bill Hoffman. He said the station had a 17.2 rating, meaning 17.2 percent of TVs were on WSB at the time.
WAGA-TV news director Budd McEntee said its local “Good Day Atlanta” yesterday beat WSB’s national telecast of “Good Morning America,” a rare victory for the Fox affiliate.
And this was also a big boon online. WSBtv.com had a record 16 million page views yesterday while ajc.com pulled in 7.2 million.
My colleague Jeffry Scott did the interview with Cantore.