Before the first gusts from Hurricane Irma approached, nearly four dozen journalists from the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald settled into the newsroom — toting enough provisions for the next 48 hours, blankets and pillows in tow.
Dozens more fanned out across South Florida, the West Coast, the Keys and the Caribbean, the communities on Irma’s projected path.
Twenty-five years ago, when Hurricane Andrew devastated swaths of South Miami-Dade, the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald were a lifeline for thousands in this community. With no mail service, electricity, phone or running water, we published page after page of critical information. Dozens of employees volunteered to deliver the newspaper.
Our commitment remains the same in this digital age: to provide real-time, essential information to our readers using every tool at our disposal — our digital sites, social media — and yes, our newspapers.
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Almost a full week before Irma was projected to make landfall in Florida, our newsrooms were working at full tilt.
Hurricane specialist Jenny Staletovich, working with editor Curtis Morgan — a former storm writer himself — monitored every change to Irma’s path, expertly and soberly explaining the ramifications of each wobble and jog. Each time, she answered our top-of-mind question: Where is this storm expected to go?
Meanwhile, another group of reporters — Howard Cohen, Abel Fernandez, Monique O. Madan, David J. Neal, George Richards and Catalina Ruiz Parra — worked in shifts to answer your most urgent questions in advance of the storm. Where can I find water? Where can I find gasoline? Am I in an evacuation zone? If so, where can I find shelter?
The heroics of this staff were many, both small and large.
As the storm approached Saturday night, inside our Doral headquarters — a former U.S. Southern Command headquarters equipped with anti-ballistic windows — the staff slept in shifts to provide live updates around the clock.
Next door at our printing plant, 14 employees hunkered down to ensure we could print our newspapers the moment Irma passed. Our carriers also stood at the ready, unsure of what damage they would encounter on the roads.
In Key West, reporter David Ovalle and photojournalist Charles Trainor endured the storm in a three-story concrete building, a former Stone Mason’s Lodge. From that bunker, they would become one of the only sources of live reports from the island — and the first journalists to provide a survey of the damage to the Keys.
Only later would I learn that the sturdy structure they used for shelter lacked one basic item: hurricane shutters.
“So many people sent me messages later, thanking us for hanging on as long as we could,” Ovalle said. “I didn’t realize until I got back how many people were relying on us.”
In Marathon, Larry Kahn, editor of our sister paper The Keynoter, rode out the storm, providing the last update to colleague David Goodhue before losing communication.
Using Puerto Rico as a base, Jim Wyss went on a scouting trip to find a way to get to the Virgin Islands. When he was offered a ride on a private catamaran taking over supplies, he jumped at the offer even though he didn’t have his own supply of food and water.
Once there, he spent 24 hours reporting on the devastation, then slept on a kind stranger’s floor. He bypassed the line for free food, refusing to take a meal he said others needed more.
Closer to home in Naples, reporter Julie Brown, along with McClatchy reporters Lesley Clark and Kate Irby and videographer Travis Long, were running low on fuel and supplies.
Angel Doval, a news clerk, drove across Alligator Alley in a van loaded with 40 gallons of gas, a case of water, apples, energy bars, Motrin and cellphone recharging sticks — allowing for another day of reporting. (Thanks also to our colleagues at the Naples Daily News, who welcomed our staff in their newsroom.)
There are so many more stories to share than I have room to tell.
It is an understatement to say that I am proud of the work that my staff has done — and is still doing — in your service.
Indeed, there is still much more to do. Even as I write, two other hurricanes are gathering strength in the Atlantic. Some of our neighbors are still anxiously awaiting restoration of power. Piles of debris line most streets in Miami-Dade and Broward. And for our neighbors in the Keys and on the West Coast, it will be a slower and more difficult path to normalcy.
Count on us to tell the stories.