COMMENTS: Water, Wind & Fire

Natural disaster and wild weather struck from coast to coast. CBS led with the premature start of the Atlantic Ocean hurricane season as Tropical Storm Andrea formed off the Georgia coast. NBC led with a wild fire in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. ABC had Charles Gibson anchor from San Francisco but nevertheless led with brush fires in drought-wracked Florida. Add in President George Bush's trip to inspect tornado damage in Kansas and the rising river waters in Missouri and the Story of the Day was…none of the above. The natural disaster coverage was so fragmented that the day's most heavily covered single item was Vice President Dick Cheney's surprise visit to Baghdad.

Tropical Storm Andrea was the most unusual development. CBS' Bianca Solorzano said it was the "earliest named storm ever, three weeks before hurricane season even begins." CBS' in-house meteorologist Bryan Norcross admitted that it was not a true seasonal storm but a "hybrid" of a summertime tropical system and a wintertime nor'easter. Even though Andrea is heading for landfall in southern Georgia it will not help douse the brush fires burning in the parched southeast. On the contrary, its high winds may fan flames as it heads ashore, warned ABC's Gigi Stone.

"Months of drought conditions have turned Florida's forests into tinderboxes," ABC's Stone stated, as more than 200 separate fires burned throughout the state, from the panhandle to the "famed Alligator Alley." Florida is now in its sixth day of emergency. NBC's Michelle Kosinski described a "layer of smoke" hovering over "virtually the entire state."

Visually the flames in Los Angeles were more eyecatching. NBC's Peter Alexander showed us the city's predawn skyline lit by flames. The fire that raged through Griffith Park destroyed a scenic picnic area named Dante's View. It "looked like it leaped from the pages of Dante's Inferno," mused CBS' Sandra Hughes. Griffith Park is the largest urban park in the nation, noted ABC's Bill Redeker (at the tail of the subscription-required Stone videostream): "Navigating planes and helicopters in this tight mountain canyon is extremely dangerous." A giant firebreak of deforested land surrounds the park's famous observatory, so that was not affected--neither was the city zoo and all but one home survived. So the fire was more pictorially vivid than strictly newsworthy.

For personality, no one beat Julian Gibson, the tree trimmer in Levasy Mo, who rowed ABC's Dean Reynolds through the flooded streets of his hometown. "This old river--it will come up and it will go down but we will still be here." Was Gibson angry about the flood control system that protected valuable real estate in the major towns along the Missouri River by flooding rural areas like Levasy? "You know, everybody that lives on the river is most generally poor. And that is what they can afford because it is cheaper land. And that is what you have got to put up with," was his phlegmatic response. CBS' Cynthia Bowers inquired why the dirt levees had not been strengthened after the floods of 1993: "People here say the federal government's help, with all its red tape, never seemed to be worth the trouble--until now."


You must be logged in to this website to leave a comment. Please click here to log in so you can participate in the discussion.