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Shelley Ross

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Irene Critics: Why Does News Coverage for Safety = Hype?

Posted: 08/29/11 06:23 PM ET

Tsunami of Sunday Morning Quarterbacks

Here they come, all the critics mocking the news coverage of Hurricane Irene, the storm that seems to have made some cynics think it was all about politics and Nielsen ratings.

I for one am grateful for every member of a "team coverage," well, perhaps with the exception of the WTTG-TV reporter Tucker Barnes who announced, "It doesn't taste great," after "immersing himself" in sea foam, a polite term for bacteria-laden sewage pouring onto the coast line, presumably a result of the storm.

I think the critics of the rest of the coverage may still not know how to navigate the new world when 100 channels and even more websites all cover an important story. Add Twitter to that and you have something that may sound like the decibel of hysteria, but that's a quantity issue, not a quality one.

strong> "Cable News Was Utterly Swept Away by the Notion Irene Would Turn Out to Be Armageddon"

That's just one indictment from my pal Howie Kurtz who I usually agree with more often than not. But today, even in hindsight, I can't agree cable news or the nets put the story "on steroids" or that their reporters gave "Category 5 performances."

I wouldn't say that to Laura Spencer of Columbia, N.C., who spent the day picking through the remains of her daughter's home. I wouldn't say that to the Spring Valley, N.Y., a man in his 50s who was electrocuted when he tried to help a child who had gone into a flooded street with downed wires.

And I wouldn't say it to the New Jersey firefighter in critical condition after attempting a water rescue in "record-breaking" inland river flood.

While Irene arrived in a weakened condition, the storm was still devastating. And while it was pounding Vermont with 50 mph winds, residents there were treated to advance reports of "hype."

At that time, at least 18 people from Puerto Rico to Connecticut had died, 10 of them in North Carolina and Virginia. Over 6 million people from South Carolina to New Hampshire lost power because of Irene, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability.

Homes were damaged by storm-related tornadoes in Delaware and Virginia, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

As we woke up to the new reports of hype, the Hoosic River near Williamstown, Massachusetts, rose 7.7 feet in 9 hours, reaching almost 4.6 feet above flood stage by midday. The Williams River near Rockingham, Vermont, was at 16.34 feet at 3:45 p.m., or 6.36 feet above its previous high crest in March 1993, according to the weather service. The Connecticut River in Montague, Massachusetts, rose 16.3 feet in eight hours today to reach flood stage there.

Esopus Creek in Cold Brook, New York, rose 17.74 in feet 12 hours to set a record crest of 23.34 feet, breaking the mark set in March 1980, according to the weather service. The creek receded and was at 19.41 feet at 4 p.m.

Hype?

TV, Radio and Web Reports Saved Lives

Here's what I learned from watching the news before, during and after the storm: a large, threatening hurricane was heading my way in New York and Connecticut, part of the country that had already reached maximum saturation from earlier summer storms. While hurricane winds are unpredictable, I learned flooding was a real possibility with the real danger being the toppling of trees onto houses, roads, cars, people, pets and power lines.

Heeding the warning I, and a rush of other people up and down the east coast, stocked up on water, food supplies, batteries, candles and more. That presumably has been a great help to the estimated 4.5 million without power, including 62% of my neighbors.

I believe the death toll would have been much greater if most of us didn't listen carefully and stay in doors, off the roads and even out of our yards. A giant 200-year-old tree in my next door neighbor's yard was uprooted and fell over, breaking the top of a really old tree in our yard. It is an area where our dog, Scout, often plays. But because of the so-called "hyped" storm warnings, Scout was only allowed out last night next to the garage, on a tight lead. Today, she and her three doggie friends next door surveyed the damage which was one downed tree and a bunch of 2-foot-long menacing-looking "splinters." We didn't need hurricane-level winds for lethal backyard missiles.

No, this didn't feel like Katrina. Entire neighborhoods weren't destroyed and populations were stranded on freeways or collapsing stadiums.

Maybe because of Katrina, we listen a little more carefully to the message however and wherever it's delivered.

Weather catastrophes are always random. And when they don't cause Katrina-like devastation perhaps it's a better time to count blessings than ridicule reporters, that is, except for the guy immersed in sea foam.

 

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