Hurricane stories

Matthew swung east and out to sea last weekend, much to the relief of East Coasters from North Carolina north to New England. This hurricane caused plenty of pain, though, while it was here and in the days to follow. In my parts, serious flooding, scary rescues and several deaths. In the Caribbean, death and devastation.

Reporters in South Florida know the drill when a hurricane approaches. Newsrooms mobilize, rivaling election nights for organized coverage. Leaves are cancelled. Everyone reports for duty and is assigned a beat. Reporters and photographers are dispatched to emergency rooms, shelters, beachfront hotels, emergency response headquarters, mayor’s and governor’s offices, and of course, the beach itself.

Responsibility for the beach beat for a hurricane in the 1960s led to the early demise of a new car for a fellow reporter, a friend who worked for the competition. He’d owned his Plymouth Barracuda for a couple of months when he drove it too close to the water’s edge for a good look. Pounding surf engulfed his new pride and  joy. When the waves receded, that new car wasn’t going anywhere. Its transmission was full of sand and salt water.

Probably my favorite memory of Florida hurricanes is of Betsy, which roared into South Florida on Sept. 8, 1965, dumping nearly more than 11 inches of rain and bending palm trees to the ground with gusts of 160 miles per hour. This bad girl killed four and resulted in nearly $140 million in damage. Recovering from minor surgery in a Hallandale hospital near the beach, I worried about my bride Betsy and our daughter Katie, who were staying with friends in nearby Miramar. As my colleagues at the Fort Lauderdale News and rival Miami Herald scrambled to outdo one another getting out special editions, I learned that in Miami, The Herald’s fleet of trucks, loaded with fresh newspapers, was trapped in a flooded underground garage. Fort Lauderdale News teams pounced on the opportunity, ran off extra press runs of its own special editions and hurriedly dispatched them to thousands of news-hungry Miami readers.

News staffers enjoyed a good laugh about that for years, but make no mistake, hurricanes are not funny. They bring death, destruction and misery. No amount of newsroom organization can change that.

Today’s word: anxious. Unless you’re fearful of a coming activity, don’t say you’re anxious for it to happen. That implies anxiety, fear or dread. If you’re looking forward to something with pleasure, choose eager.

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