“Damn, damn, damn,” I muttered. The track of Hurricane “Grace” – the seventh named storm of the year in the Atlantic, had turned ninety-degrees and the track now took the eye of the Category Two storm directly into the east coast of Florida.
“JIM,” I screamed at my production assistant. He turned with a serious look on his face. “Get me set up again. We’ve got to do another weather bulletin; Grace just turned west again – towards Jacksonville – right towards us.”
Together we trotted down the hallway to the studio and then Jim slipped behind the large console with more dials and gages on it than a Boeing jet. He slipped on his headset and started talking to the network producer arranging our interruption of regularly scheduled programming – currently a soap opera.
I stood over the large “X” on the floor in front of a green screen – a large green panel that through the wonders of electronics was magically replaced by computer-generated weather maps as I stood in front of them. Through two large monitors I could see what was actually going out of the studio and right now it showed a large rotating mass of weather out in the Atlantic with me standing in front of it. I checked my clothing in the monitor and decided I was quite presentable.
Jim looked up and said to me, “Ninety seconds, Pam.”
I am Pam David, thirty years old, single, good looking, ‘hot,’ and a member of the American Meteorological Society. I majored in meteorology as an undergrad and in business for my MBA. I picked weather as my major even when I was a teenager after an un-forecast Oklahoma tornado wiped out my grandparent’s home and killed my grandmother. My psychologist told me that I had to confront my demons and making it my life profession seemed to fill that bill.
I added ‘hot’ to that brief description of myself because that’s what my various boyfriends have told me. I have a trim girly figure and nice boobs – a “C” cup that shows up nicely on TV when I turn to gesture at the weather map. Also, when the chemistry is right between me and a guy I can really go crazy. That said, I currently have no one special in my life and I haven’t gone crazy for over two years. I’m in a rut – a dry spell; no guys, no dates, and no sex.
After I graduated from college I lucked into a job as the weekend weather girl and ‘gofer’ for a TV station in western Idaho. They thought I was ‘cute.’ A year later I catapulted into a weekday morning and lunch job in for a TV station in central Arkansas. Three years later, I was a lot more suave, smooth and exciting in my delivery. So WJAX-TV – the up and coming Jacksonville network station - recruited me two years ago, and here I am doing everything from noon to midnight that has to do with the weather. They take me seriously.
“Fifteen seconds,” Jim said from his seat at the console we called ‘weather central’.
We both counted down silently then a fifteen second automated announcement broke into the network program. We could hear the sound of the excited male voice, well modulated but compelling attention from the viewers: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt your regular broadcast with this very important weather bulletin. Please stay tuned for this critical information.” An alarm buzzed to ensure listener attention to what I’d say next.
The announcement screen faded to show me in front of the weather map.
“Good afternoon. I’m Pam David with a live update about Hurricane Grace, now three-hundred miles southeast of Jacksonville.” I stared into the camera with a serious look on my face.
“This Category Three storm, packing winds of over a hundred-fifteen miles an hour is now headed straight for Jacksonville. We had hopped that the northerly turn the storm took at dawn this morning would result in Grace heading out to die in the mid-Atlantic, but those hopes are gone after plotting another eight hours worth of storm track data. This storm is aimed right at us.”
I had turned and was making my usual gestures at the green board, showing viewers how the track would sweep the storm right into the Florida-Georgia border, and then deep into the vulnerable middle of the country.
“The hurricane is currently traveling at twenty miles an hour. If this speed is sustained, the eye of the storm should arrive here tomorrow morning. We are already feeling the fringes of this storm and rip currents along the beach have been evident since last night and are now dangerous to swimmers. If you’ve been outside, you already know we have breezy showers throughout the viewing area.”
The screen changed to show winds blowing debris around in some earlier storm.
I went on, “Winds are expected to pick up from the current light breezes. By midnight we expect winds to be consistently over sixty miles an hour. Winds will increase hourly as the eye approaches. Just outside the eye, winds will exceed a hundred-fifteen miles an hour.”
I engaged the camera again as the clip of winds ended.
“Folks, I want to add my warning – my stern personal warning to all the others you’ve been hearing, including from the govenor. NOW, is the time to secure loose items and to get to high ground if you live in low-lying areas. Get away from the coast. Get to a shelter. Get to high ground.” I stared into the camera again, “FURTHER, I think conditions in the ocean favor a strengthening of this storm. I think we might have a Category Four or Five by the time Grace reaches us. This is a deadly storm, and you should take such precautions.”
I ended the bulletin as we usually did, “We’ll keep you updated throughout the rest of the day. We now return you to the regularly scheduled program.” I watched as the monitor showed me fading to the Bulletin frame and then that faded back into the soap opera. I wondered how people could watch that stuff when there was so much ‘real stuff’ happening out there to be involved in.
Jim rose from his panel and said, “We’re good for now. Let me know when you want to go on again. I’m not going home. It’ll flood out anyway, and I couldn’t get back here tomorrow.” I nodded and gave a sympathetic look.
Knowing I would be here all night I slipped into our “Nap Room” and lay down for what I thought would be a few minutes. When I awoke Jim was standing beside the cot shaking me gently.
“Pam? Hey Pam, wake up. Time to come back to work.” Jim had his enigmatic smile that I liked so much.
“How long was I out?” I said through my grogginess.
“It’s almost five o’clock. Time to start our ninety-minute drill. I figured you’d want to check the Hurricane Center again before you go on. You’ve got twenty minutes.”
I mumbled, “Thanks, Jim,” and stood. A quick stop in the ladies room and I was ready to go. Now I needed something to say.
The National Hurricane Center had a four o’clock update. Things were strengthening, and the storm’s relentless track towards us was unabated. I’d be the star of the news for the next few hours as we did the news.
Jim stuck his head in my cubicle, “Hey Pam, we just got the word you’re also going to do a two-minute cameo on the national network news at 6:42 p.m. You’ll segue over a clip showing the storm’s track from the coast of Africa to its present position, and then your ‘sweeping-into-the-U.S.’ routine.”
“OK,” I said crisply; here were my fifteen minutes of fame. I’d never done a national feed before. Wow!
Two hours later I was exhausted but exhilarated. It wasn’t the standing and dancing around in front of the green screen that made me tired, it was the feeling of responsibility that people were watching me and going to bet their lives on what I told them. I had to get it ‘right.’
I’d just sat at my desk when Jim appeared at my cubicle doorway. “Hey, Pam. NBS wants you to do oceanside bites and the weather channel even wants our feed – all their people are up north or on Hatteras waiting for the sweep north.”
“How am I getting around? You driving? Who’s the camera?”
“Not me. I’ll be talking to you from here on the satellite link. They’re bringing in a new guy. He was a big cheese in NBS, but is now retired. He’s taking our truck. Don’t let him prang it up under a tree or building. He should be here in thirty.”
I’d kept a couple of changes of clothing at the station, but most of the duds were more dressy and more suitable for looking “pretty” in front of the evening news camera in the studio and not outside on a rainy, windy day.
“Hey, Jim,” I shouted, “What about the eleven o’clock spot?”
He replied from partway down the hall, “You’ll do that from Amelia Island – on the beach. You should have just enough time to get out there, get set up and broadcast. I’ll update you by cell on anything on the wire about the storm.”
I shrugged and headed off to assemble some storm clothes. Thirty minutes later I’d found some slacks and scrounged a couple of men’s polo shirts with the station logo. I had some running shoes at the office, so that’d be what I wore under my weather gear. I looked great in foul weather gear – all you could see was my pert nose sticking out from under my WJAX baseball hat. No boobs to impress the male members of my audience. I pushed my hair through the back of the hat and headed back to my cubicle to pick up my laptop and purse.
There was a very large man asleep at my desk when I turned into my cubicle. He was wearing jeans, rubber boots, and a new NBS polo shirt. His head was back showing a ruddy and tanned complexion and a handsome face that had seen a lot of mileage. I could tell he was tall and trim since there was so much leg between my chair and the edge of my desktop where his western boots carefully rested. His muscular arms were folded over his chest. There was a tattoo on one arm – a smiling dragon. He was what I’d call craggy.
“Ahem,” I coughed to see whether I could wake him.
One steel-blue eye opened and looked at me. The other followed. He uncurled from his repose and put both feet on the floor.
I held out my hand, “Yes, Pam David.”
“Hi. I’m Doug Saunders at your service - chauffeur, network guru, hurricane hunter, and all-round good guy. I’m told we should hit the road pretty soon since you’ve got a couple of feeds for the late news.”
“Let’s go,” I said as I stuffed my laptop into my briefcase along with my wallet and my traveling cosmetics kit.
It was already raining as we got into the network van. Doug clearly knew his way around a truck like this for his moves were definite and betrayed a familiarity with the equipment that I thought belay years of experience. I looked at Doug trying to guess his age: somewhere between forty-five and sixty five, I decided. If he were retired, I figured he’d be closer to the latter.
As we drove I asked, “So tell me about Doug Saunders? I was told you’d retired. Is this a special gig or something?”
He laughed, “Yea, sort of. I had twenty years in the military. I did Navy and Marine news and broadcasts all over the place - usually from war zones when we had one. After that I spent fifteen years with NBS, mostly around Washington. Inherited some money, thought I’d try fishing, but got bored and put my oar back in the water with NBS – and here we are, a week later, driving into the middle of a hurricane. My thing! At least, no one’s going to shoot at us.” I narrowed my guess about Doug’s age down to about fifty-five.
We swapped stories and then talked about what we were going to do for the late news and then about overnight feeds.
Just before ten o’clock we pulled into the Amelia Island Resort – the pleasure spa that WJAX had arranged as our home base for the next twenty-four hours. Doug and I introduced ourselves to a security man that greeted us. The place had been emptied, and all the staff had left for the mainland. The one security guard had stayed behind to help secure the place and anchor loose equipment and outdoor gear from flying around. He’d been in the process of throwing poolside loungers into the pool to get them out of the wind.
Part of the resort consisted of two large three-story condo buildings. The resort rented out most of the condos and nice folks that they were; they set aside a two-bedroom condo for Doug and me to use. It faced the Atlantic Ocean, but at this hour all we could see was a pit of black from the little balcony. We put the storm shutters back down, shut the glass door, and went back to set up the van.
Doug pulled the van up close to the building on what we figured would be the leeward side of things. He put up the satellite antenna stopping just at the roofline to minimize wind impact on the antenna. With the help of the security man, he secured the antenna boom to the building for some added stability. Doug really did know what he was doing.
I watched in the van as he fired up the electronics and the panel. Suddenly, I heard Jim’s voice over the speaker, “Hi Pam; sneaky way to get an free overnight at a resort. Find a hurricane and this whole place rolls over to be your servant.”
I talked into the van’s microphone, “Hi Jim. It was a dark, stormy night in the Hartz Mountains; greetings from Amelia Island. They closed up the place just for us. Just one security guard here.”
Jim updated me on the weather and told me he’d e-mailed me some of the screens they’d splice into my broadcast at eleven. We agreed on the order. I booted up my laptop as we talked and soon was logged into the resort’s wi-fi network.
The surface winds were now over forty knots, and the eye of the storm was about a hundred and sixty miles from landfall with top wind speed of a hundred-twenty – the storm was a Category Three. I noted that Amelia Island was directly in the center of the projected landfall of the eye. The rest of the maps and satellite photos were predictable. I made some notes on a three-by-five card to refresh my mind just before we went on the air and then suggested to Doug that we find a place to set up the camera.
At eleven I was standing beside the pool at the resort. There were white caps on the pool water. Doug was a good cameraman; he knew his stuff. The rest of the feed took care of itself. I did my cameo in the news segment of the broadcast and then ten minutes later did an in-depth update on Hurricane Grace and what to expect along the Florida and Georgia coasts and further inland as the storm weakened and then headed north, ripping through the Carolinas.
I suggested to viewers that given the growing intensity of the storm and its track right for the city that viewers check in at four a.m. for a special storm update. We’d set that up with WJAX earlier at Doug’s suggestion; we’d probably be live at least every half-hour after that.
Doug and I folded up the van and went up to the condo that had been assigned to us.
For the first time, I felt a little surge of sexual excitement as we went in the door. He seemed quite comfortable sharing the quarters with me, and he’d certainly made no move on me. Yet, I felt chemistry between us – really strong chemistry. If there were pheromones about, I was certainly receiving his.
“He’s old enough to be your father,” I told myself. That didn’t work. I still felt chemistry. I didn’t know what to do about it, but he did.
“Pam, we’ll have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in four hours. We both better get some shuteye. I have an alarm clock.” Doug shuffled off towards one of the bedrooms without asking which one I wanted.
I lay down and quickly drifted to sleep, assisted by the sound of the wind and rain hitting the storm shutters.
“Pam? Pam? It’s time to get up.” I heard the voice from afar. I had this slight feeling of panic as I wondered where I was. The voice was more persistent. “Pam, get up. Time to go.”
“OK. OK. I’m awake. I’ll get moving. Thanks Doug.” I was fully aware now. I listened to the storm sounds for a minute. They were more ferocious than when I’d gone to sleep. I went to turn on the bedside light but found only darkness.
“Hey, I’ve got no power. Is everything out?” I yelled as I fumbled towards the bedroom door.
“Yes,” Doug said in a loud voice from the direction of the living room. “Do you need a light?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I have nothing. I forgot we might be in the dark. Funny I tell all my viewers to be sure to have flashlights but don’t take my own advice.”
Doug opened my bedroom door and handed me a flashlight. He didn’t appear to notice that I was just in the polo shirt and bikini briefs. I went back to my bedroom to redress. I decided to skip the makeup since I could tell anything I put on would be washed off in seconds outside the building.
Doug was waiting for me when I came out.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” I replied.
We stepped out into the maelstrom. The wind was blowing about sixty or seventy miles an hour and the rain was nearly horizontal. Doug pulled me along the short distance from the door in our section of the condo to the van. He pushed me into the van.
Doug started a generator on the van and fired up all our equipment. It was a quarter to four in the morning. I was wondering how I’d be able to talk and do a broadcast from outside the van.
Doug came back into the van, slamming the door behind him. He shed his parka and sat at the console.
“I need Internet, or access to the National Hurricane Center satellite broadcasts or better yet, both,” I told Doug. He pointed to the other console in the van and up on the screen popped the latest satellite photo of Hurricane Grace.
“Oh my God,” I said. “It’s gotten bigger. It’s huge.” He told me how to flip the screen and check things on the Internet. I madly dialed in screen after screen of meteorological data on the storm. I was swearing aloud as every screen brought worse news than the one before it.
I heard Doug talking to Jim at WJAX. He gave me a five-minute warning and suggested we go set up the camera someplace where I could broadcast.
I put on my foul weather gear, and I followed Doug from the van, pushing the door shut behind us. We set up on the leeward side of the building. It was still windy but with the camera against the building and me about ten feet away it wasn’t too bad.
After setting things up, Doug yelled, “Sixty seconds.” I nodded.
A minute later Doug cued me. I started talking rapidly.
“This is Pam David broadcasting from Amelia Island, just off the coast from Jacksonville. I’m standing on the protected side of this resort; however, the winds are howling at sixty to seventy miles an hour and the rain is horizontal on the other side of this building.”
I went on, “I have some bad news for you. Hurricane Grace is now a Category Five storm. The warm waters of the Atlantic have fed energy into this storm, and it is now a killer. If you are in a low-lying area this may be your last opportunity to move to safer ground. Get to high ground! The storm surge is a killer. The wind is a killer.”
“The eye will likely pass directly over me and very close to the downtown areas. Flooding can be expected over a wide area. Winds near the eye will be over one-hundred-sixty miles per hour. Rainfall is estimated at three to six inches an hour over a wide area with heavy flooding, particularly near the St. Mary’s River and all feeder streams. Again, get to protection and high ground – NOW!”
I gave some other statistics about the storm then had a thought. I told viewers, “If Doug my cameraman can follow me, I’m going to step out from behind this protected wall and show you the power of this storm.” I walked backwards towards the corner of the building where there was no protection.
As I came into the wind stream, my body was lifted and carried about ten feet before I landed in a rolling pile on the ground. I flipped and flopped over a couple of more times before I could crawl, on hands and knees, back into the protection of the building. Doug started towards me, but I waved him away.
Doug motioned that I was still on camera. “Wow!” I said to our viewers, “That was a little more than I expected. I should tell you I weight about a hundred and twenty pounds and stand five-foot-six. To be blown around like that shows you the power of this wind, and when the eye gets here it may be over twice this speed – that’s at least four times the energy. Winds will be around 160 miles an hour! If you live in a mobile home or an older home not built to new hurricane protection standards, you need to find better quarters to ride out the storm. Get going – NOW!”
“This is Pam David, signing off for now. We’ll try to be back in a half hour with an update.” We ended the feed.
Doug came and put his arm around me, “That was stupid!” he admonished me in an angry tone. “You could have been hurt or hit by debris. That’s why we’re on the protected side of the building. Don’t do that again.” He pulled me towards the van, grabbing the camera and tripod with his other hand.
In the van, he cast an evil eye at me.
“I’m sorry, Doug,” but I had to do something so people watching would get a sense of the power of this storm. I’d do it again, but next time I’ll set it up with you. OK?”
“Not if it puts your pretty butt in danger,” he replied protectively.
“My pretty butt is covered up with foul weather gear,” I said. “You can’t tell whether it’s pretty or has warts all over it.”
“It’s pretty,” he said flatly. “I peeked before you covered it up with all that rain gear.”
We both laughed. I was also pleased. Some of that chemistry was still around.
We did half hour updates. By five-thirty we opted to do the updates from inside the van although the noise level from the wind was becoming excessive; I had to yell. Wind speed was up to eighty miles an hour.
For the six o’clock newscast, we went into an interior room of the resort and did wireless video and audio feeds to the van. We set up two spotlights powered from the van. Doug had fed some views of the ocean to the station about fifteen minutes before we went on. The waves were up right at the edge of the dunes, on sea swells and a storm surge of almost twenty feet. The water was boiling. The air was thick with salt spray and debris. He caught a few frames of a roof rolling past the resort from one of the upscale homes nearby.
The feed was spectacular. I watched it later. It was a team effort. Jim was splicing Doug’s storm feeds from windows of the resort into my live broadcast. Somewhere along the line I figured that a large portion of the area was without electricity and so missed it. Oh well.
Doug lowered the antenna of the van about the time we figured the wind speed was hitting a hundred. Although it was still protected, he was worried about it ripping off the truck.
The eye came ashore at seven o’clock. We were right under it. It was eerie to suddenly feel the wind almost cease. We both went outside and stood. The security guard appeared from somewhere in the bowels of the building too. We stood and looked at the wall of clouds and water; yet above us a few puffy clouds and blue sky.
While the eye was with us, Doug set up the camera and we did a quick five-minute clip back to the station. Jim said there was concern at the station that they’d lose their satellite dishes soon. He’d still be there trying to figure out how to get us on the air.
After we finished I noted that we could look almost vertically up the eye wall, perhaps for 30,000 feet. It was hard to tell. On our side of things the sky was blue and almost serene; the eye wall was a seething dark and malevolent monster waiting to strike.
Doug quickly moved the van to reposition it for the change in wind direction we expected when the eye finished passing. At seven-twenty the eye passed and the storm started again with a vengeance. We ran back in the resort just in time hoping that we could maintain contact with the station through the van’s radio link. Even in the interior room we could not only hear the wind screaming at almost a level beyond imagination, but also feel the building shake and twist.
Several windows blew out, and we felt the hot humid storm air penetrate the hotel.
I went and sat close to Doug in a corner of the room. I was scared. “Hold me,” I told him.
He smiled at me, “Why that’d be an honor, Pretty Lady.” He put his arm around me. It was not the most romantic of circumstances – I was still in my foul weather gear from head to foot and for that matter so was he. Our lights were off, but we had some light from the hallway doors that we’d left open. Emergency lights run off batteries were on in the halls.
Almost every minute we heard another major crash or something akin to an explosion somewhere around the resort complex as one thing or another blew away or things crashed together.
Then there was a horrible tearing sound above us. Doug said, “There goes the roof on this building. It’s peeling off in the wind.” He no sooner finished the sentence then we heard a tremendous crash – almost an explosion of debris right outside the building. We assumed it was the roof hitting the ground.
Almost immediately we felt the wall behind us start to give way. A large crack appeared behind me, and we both scrambled towards the adjacent wall. Then the ceiling started to cave in on that side of the building, several light fixtures fell to the floor along with most of the ceiling tiles, and a gale force wind ripped through the room, throwing tables, chairs, and anything that wasn’t nailed down, all over the place.
I vaguely recall something hitting my head, and then I lost consciousness. I started to come to and there was Doug kneeling over me with a bloody rag in his hand. I felt really woozy.
“Come on girl,” Doug said. “That’s it. Welcome back to the real world. You took a really bad hit. Knocked you right out. Here. Can you sit up? You’re still bleeding from the gash on your temple, but I think you’ll be all right.” He checked me for a concussion.
“Storm? Broadcast?” I mumbled.
“Van is gone. Went bye-bye in the wind. Got pushed into the other building – about five feet into the other building. The satellite antenna is gone. When the wind dies down I’ll see what I can salvage.”
I sat up, a little more alert. “How long was I out?”
“About twenty minutes,” Doug replied, dabbing at my wound. I noticed the rag was what had been his shirt. Without his shirt I could see he had strong ab muscles, a good tan, and a masculine chest. I wanted to touch it - that chemistry again.
“This building?” I asked.
“Demolished,” he replied. “The security guard is dead. A concrete wall fell on him. Could have happened to us too if we hadn’t moved when we did – right before you got hit in the head. Nothing I could do but cover him over.”
I noted that the wind was still howling outside, but it seemed less intense than just before I passed out.
“Wind speed seems to be dropping,” I observed.
“Yeah, it’s dropping slowly. The storm is probably going to lose some punch now that the eye is ashore. Plus I think it’s shifted north again, that’ll help drop the winds a little faster for us. When the speed drops down to about sixty, I’ll go out to the van and see whether we have any type of communication with the outside world.”
I surveyed the room we were in. Even the wildest party could not have created the kind of devastation that I saw. On the far side of the room, light was visible where the wall had collapsed and then dropped the two upper floors of the condo – concrete, furniture, and remnants of the roof, into a pile. Rain pelted in the opening, but we were far enough inside against the other side of the condo to stay dry.
Doug had created a small space where he could lay me out and minister to my wound. He’d propped up some of the debris to create a small fortress, but I doubted it was sturdy enough to withstand a further collapse of the upper floors.
“Shouldn’t we move?” I pointed upwards.
“As soon as you can stand we should climb out of here. I think if we try to go down that hallway it might be safer. There were no upper floors there.” He pointed to a door that was now blocked by debris.
“Give me a minute and I’ll be ready,” I said as I carefully got up on my knees. I gathered up my raincoat; Doug had used it as a pillow under my head. It had a lot of blood on it.
“Am I still bleeding?” I asked.
“Yes, but not as much as you were initially. Head wounds do that. I should tell you that I was a backup EMT – Emergency Medical Tech – in the service. I didn’t just go around and take pretty pictures.”
I finished standing, holding onto Doug. The woozy feeling passed slowly away and I was good at moving slowly as long as I could hold onto something like Doug.
Doug moved towards the door, heaving tables and chairs from my path. At the door, he tried to both pull and push until he could get the door open about a foot. He peered through then said to me, “It’s wet and windy but I think it’s safer than staying in this wing of the resort.”
We both squeezed through the door. What had been a glassed in hallway to the main reception area was now obliterated. The concrete pad of the walkway was in tact, but the glass sides and roof were gone. Some twisted remains of the HVAC ducts lay a few yards away.
“Let’s try the reception and lounge area,” Doug said.
He helped me along the path, supporting most of my weight as we threaded our way amid the wreckage. Three hundred feet later, we were soaked but safe in the resort’s reception area. Windows were gone, but the roof had remained in tact. Further, most of the lounge furniture had survived.
“Sit here,” Doug said leading me to a wet sofa. Let me see what shape things are in around here. He went behind the reception desk and was gone for several minutes.
When he came back he announced, “No nothing. Phone service is out completely. The cell tower is out. There’s no electricity. But, I have some good news.” He smiled and produced two containers of orange juice from his pocket and a dozen peanut butter and cheese crackers.
I laughed and reached for the nosh; “Why, Doug. You take your girlfriends to the nicest places and spare no expense. I am truly impressed.”
Doug bowed and sat beside me. We ate and waited for things to quiet down amid the howl of the wind. I nestled into his shoulder and closed my eyes.
I awoke about an hour later. Doug’s yellow rain parka was soaked with my blood, but he said I was in good shape. He noted that another section of the building we’d been in had collapsed so it was a good thing we’d moved. He also noted that the wind speed had dropped considerably, and he wanted to go and check out the van.
He made me promise to wait where I was, and he went out through one of the nonexistent windows and headed towards the other building. I stood and went to the opening to watch his progress.
The front of the van was about five feet into a windowed wall of the other section of the resort’s condo units. As Doug reached the truck, he clamored in the back door of the unit and slammed it shut behind him.
Five minutes later he reappeared and went around to the cab of the truck and barely got in. With some difficulty, he got the truck started and was able to back the unit out of the hole it had created in the structure. He drove the truck across the well-manicured lawn, leaving deep tire tracks, until he was next to the reception area.
Doug got out of the truck and ran back to where I was.
“Darlin’, the truck seems in good shape except for the lack of a satellite antenna and a cracked windshield. If I can find it I might be able to get it working again. In the meantime, we have a radio link. I can hear a lot of emergency traffic talking, but it’s all from the downtown area; that’s almost twenty miles from here. I don’t know whether anyone can hear me. Didn’t try all that hard for now.”
“I do have one other present for you, though.” Doug reached under his parka and produced a first aid kit. Five minutes later my head wound was treated and gauzed over, and my entire head was wrapped to hold the dressing in place.
“OK, I’m ready to do the weather now,” I announced as he finished. I stood, primped, and acted as though I was wearing a new Dior suit; I said to him, “Do I look all right?” I realized I looked like shit – a pile of shit that had been pummeled with blood, debris, water, wind, dust, and dirt.
We went in the van and sat for another hour listening to the Jacksonville emergency units struggling with one disaster after another. Doug tried several times to make contact as well as to call the station on the two-way, but there was no response.
Eventually, he announced he was going on an antenna hunt. I sat in the van, and Doug went out to wander the property. He came back in ten minutes and told me he’d found the antenna boom, but all he wanted was the antenna and the feed cable. He took a toolbox and headed back out.
I lay down on the floor of the van again, dozing until I heard noises that I took to be Doug returning from the hunt. I opened the door, and he was standing there with the satellite dish antenna and about thirty feet of antenna cable over his shoulder.
“OK, let’s see what we can set up,” he announced.
I decided I’d call him MacGyver, after the TV character that could create miracles like build an airplane with a paper clip and rubber band. Doug had fastened the antenna to a patio chair and rewired the unit. All this while standing in forty-knot winds and rain.
After a lot of in and out of the van to get the antenna aimed at the right satellite, Doug was reasonably happy that he was in the vicinity. He had a partial lock on one ‘bird,’ and we started to try to make contact again.
“WJAX, WJAX, WJAX. Mobile One here, how do you read?” He repeated the message over and over again.
Then suddenly, after we’d been tweaking things for fifteen minutes, a booming voice came in over the truck’s speakers, “Mobile One, this is National Broadcasting Service. How do you read?”
“NBS, Mobile One here. We read you five by five. How do you hear us?”
“You’re five by five as well. Where are you? Are all in your party safe?”
Doug responded, “This is Doug Saunders and I’m with Pam David, the WJAX weather person. We are at the Amelia Island Resort. We are OK although Pam has a head wound. There is a dead security guard here. The resort is in shambles and part of it has collapsed. How’s the rest of the area?”
After a silence the speaker came on again, “This is NBS in Atlanta you’re talking to – Bill Walsh. WJAX and most of the Jacksonville and southeast George radio and all the TV stations are off the air. Antennas are down mostly. When they went out we started to monitor the satellites. You’re about the only one out there other than emergency crews around the City. Is the head wound on the woman OK or do you need emergency assistance?” I shook my head “no.”
“No emergency here in terms of personnel. How are roads?” Doug asked.
“The north bridge to your island is gone - destroyed. The southern one is probably gone too. I think you’re going to be there for a while. There are a lot of washouts and flooded highways. I wouldn’t try to move very far. The storm is well inland now; the storm center is up near where Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee come together; it’s only a tropical storm now. Lots of rain and flooding going on.”
“OK. Can we stay in touch?”
“Most definitely. Say, hold on for a minute, my producer wants to talk to Pam David.”
There was a long silence then another male voice came on the radio. “Pam, this is Ron Wilson, executive producer of network news for NBS. Are you able to broadcast over this link? Video?”
“Hold on, we’ll set up the camera and see,” I said into the mike as I leaned over Doug’s shoulder.
Doug played with the camera and the connection wires. Suddenly, the monitors in the van came to life with the picture of the inside of the van and me sitting in the chair.
“Great!” the voice over the speaker said, “We can see you? Are you really OK? The bloody bandage looks impressive. Are you still bleeding?”
“Yes, I’m fine thanks to Doug Saunders here. He was an EMT so I’ll take his word that I’m OK. I feel OK, just sore – all over.”
“Can you do a clip for us in about ten minutes? Be good if you could be outside? You know, show some views of the debris and all.”
Doug nodded, and I said, “We’ll be ready.”
Fifteen minutes later we’d set up outside the van. Doug cued me to start talking.
“This is Pam David talking to you from Amelia Island, Florida, where five hours ago the eye of Hurricane Grace passed directly overhead. The hurricane destroyed the three-story building of condominiums that you see over my shoulder. My colleague Doug Saunders and I were in that building when it collapsed, that’s why I have this bandage around my head – I didn’t fare too well and got knocked out. At the far end of that building is also the body of a security guard left here by the resort to ensure that the property was safe and secure; Hurricane Grace killed him.”
Doug panned the camera around the property as I kept talking.
“Everywhere you look there is destruction. This is what winds of a hundred-sixty miles and hour will do. Down the road you see in the picture right now is the main highway off the island. The only trouble for us is that the bridges to the mainland are gone; blown away by Grace.”
“We can hear the radios of the emergency crews on the mainland – mostly from Jacksonville area. They have their hands full right now with every kind of emergency you can imagine. This is a time for neighbors to be helping neighbors. It is also a time to avoid downed power lines and the other hazards that this Hurricane has left us with.”
The camera came back to me, “Pam David, NBS News.” I stood still for a moment. Doug then motioned us back inside the van.