Hurricane Georges just prior to landfall on Mississippi - image courtesy of : NOAA
HURRICANE CHASING IN THE USA
I arrived in Miami tired from 20 hours of travel from New Zealand, However there was no time to rest.
Hurricane Georges had already cut a swathe of death and destruction through the Caribbean and was now only a day away from landfall on the United States mainland. At times like these the US media go into overdrive and saturation coverage of Hurricane George's impending chaos was hard to avoid. President Clinton was imbroiled in the infamous Monica Lewinsky affair but even the 200th replay of
Clinton's "I did - not - have - sex with that woman" statement took second place
to Hurricane Georges. The media generally also had a hard time pronouncing the name right, Georges is a French name but was rarely pronounced as such. Hurricane Georges was set to graze across the Florida Keys as it entered the Gulf of Mexico so the decision I had to make was weather to try for a double hit by going to Key West for Georges passing and then racing 1200 kms to Mississippi for the second landfall. I decided it was not a prudent idea as the only way into or out of the Keys is via a series of bridges, if one of them was damaged I could find myself having a conversation with Avis that goes something like this, " do you do discounts for a six month car rental ?". The outer edges of Georges caused considerable rain in Miami and some gusty winds. While filming some soldiers filling sandbags
one of them, who was on exchange from the Israeli Army said to me that he wanted to come with me as he had never been in a hurricane. That was a good idea as he could help share the drive to Mississippi which was about 1200kms. His presence (and military ID card) also proved useful in conning our way through various roadblocks and fielding questions from the police in the numerous times we were pulled over.
As Hurricane Georges approached landfall on Mississippi, Gulfport was my choice of places for the where the eye of Georges would pass. The area was under a curfew but the media were allowed to move around during the hurricane. At about midnight while driving around Gulfport in 200 kph winds we stopped on a street corner to film the storm when behind us a huge flash attracted our attention, the flash was caused by power lines being severed by flying roofing iron thrown up by a tornado that formed about 100 metres from us. Soon we were being showered with assorted flying debris and my army friend was getting decidedly worried, he told me he felt safer in a war zone. I was quite happy, however, as the whole incident was on camera. The storm quickly got stronger so we had to park the car in a vacant lot against a concrete building before it got overturned or hit by debris. We spent 4 hours there. I took advantage of the usual opportunity to interview the locals....in 200kph winds
By daylight, Georges was still very much alive and it appeared to stall for a time as it crossed the coast lashing Gulfport with hurricane force winds and rain that exceeded 700mm over a 24 hour period.
I never pass up the chance to stand in the middle of a road and describe what conditions are like.
Driving around town a lot of structural damage was seen and in places two story houses were flooded up to their roofs by the volume of water. After it was all over all there was a 1700km drive back to Miami, huge detours had to be taken because of the flooding caused by Georges, one policeman was very apologetic about the detours and told me that I had picked the wrong time for a holiday, "we've just had a hurricane ! ", he told me,.......no kidding.
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