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TV meteorologist talks of Hurricane Katrina and aftermath at Rotary meeting

“It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done,” said Brad Panovich. Continuing, he said it was also “a horrific yet amazing experience.”
Panovich, the weekend meteorologist for Charlotte station WCNC-TV, was speaking of his first-hand experience with Hurricane Katrina. The Powerpoint presentation he made at Monday’s Rotary Club of Lincolnton meeting served to underscore how what he said was no exaggeration.
His journey into the eye of the hurricane began several days before Katrina hit when he called WLLT-TV in New Orleans. Panovich had been with the station six years before coming on board WCNC-TV three years ago.
“I knew they were short-handed going into the storm,” he said, which was why he had called down to offer any assistance possible.
How short-staffed his former station’s staff were was driven home when one of the meteorologists responded and told him he was needed immediately. The wife of that meteorologist was about to go into labor and the other meteorologist was away on assignment.
It took a bit of doing on the part of the managers of WCNC and WLLT, but at the last minute, Panovich was told to get down to Louisiana ASAP.
“I took enough clothes for three days,” he said. “I ending up staying 11.” He arrived the day before the hurricane made landfall.
One of the most frightening situations he encountered while there followed the storm’s aftermath. The day after Katrina had passed, water began coming down one of the streets he was reporting from. He and the others quickly discovered the water was coming from a levee that had been breached.
“We hopped into our vehicles and high-tailed it out of there as fast as we could,” said Panovich.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the hurricane were the number of homes in which it appeared little, if any, damage had occurred. It was a delusion. While the exterior of homes looked little worse for wear, the interiors were entirely devestated.
“Mold was everywhere, and the smell was horrendous,” he said. “Floors, walls, ceilings, even down to the frame, everything was damaged.”
A number of homes were lifted off foundations, he said. A good many houses would probably have to be bulldozed, Panovich speculated.
But for all the damage done, it most heartbreaking was the impact the hurricane had on people he worked with at WLLT-TV. Many of them hadn’t seen family members in days; their homes were destroyed; and who knew whether they would have jobs.
The latter was of major concern. Despite assurances by the parent corporation that those in New Orleans were guaranteed jobs for the next year by headquarters, Belo Corporation, some still couldn’t remain; it was far too traumatic.
Perhaps saddest was the fate of the public information officer.
“He worked with we station people three days, virtually non-stop,” said Panovich. “Then he went home and saw the damage there and committed suicide.”
However, he has no doubt at all that the majority of New Orleans residents will eventually return. As he put it, the Crescent City has a culture unlike anywhere else. People who have lived there and left, somehow never escape its pull and many find themselves permanently returning.
But as for covering another hurricane?
“I don’t ever want to go back to that again,” he said.
by Steve Steiner

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