COMMENTS: Szeluga in the Spotlight

For the first time since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, none of the three network newscasts presented a reporter's package. All three anchors mentioned the sluggish relief efforts in passing. Instead, the relatively minor brush fires in central Florida inspired curious national attention. There was nothing inherently newsworthy about the blazes--they interrupted traffic on the I-95 highway, destroyed or damaged about a hundred homes and killed nobody--that would elevate them above local TV news fare to the national networks. The explanation for their prominence lies in the dynamic figure of Mary Szeluga, whose Palm Bay home was destroyed. Szeluga was featured by NBC's Kerry Sanders and CBS' Mark Strassmann and ABC's Jeffrey Kofman (embargoed link), a three-for. "The cats are fine," she reassured Kofman. "I just got a new queen-sized bed. That went up," she shared with Strassmann. Sanders landed the best bit, a display of her ceremonial sword, awarded after her Marine Corps service in the Vietnam War: "I am proud of being a Marine," declared the burned-out, T-shirted, crew-cut veteran, "a former Marine but a Marine nonetheless."

Rounding out the day's disaster coverage was Don Teague for NBC's In Depth. The damage left by the weekend's tornadoes to the town of Picher Okla was covered Monday by CBS' Kelly Cobiella and ABC's Eric Horng (embargoed link). Now Teague rounds out the explanation of why Picher, population 900, will never be rebuilt: "Bullets for two World Wars were made from lead mined right here. During its heyday the town's population soared to 20,000 but that proud heritage left a legacy of lead pollution, so much of it that rebuilding here simply is not an option."


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