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Topic: Disaster Relief and Recovery
The New York Times recognized one Birmingham station, Allbritton’s WBMA-TV, for its live coverage. The local ABC affiliate’s veteran Meteorologist James Spann covered the mile-wide tornado as it approached his viewing area. The Times noted that following the storm Spann received hundreds of comments on his Facebook page. One viewer wrote, "I have no doubt that you saved too many lives to count." New Vision Media-owned WIAT-TV’s chief meteorologist Mark Prater also covered the storm for Birmingham’s CBS affiliate. The Times reported Prater relied on traffic cameras and other video sources to keep his viewers informed as the twister plowed through parts of Alabama.
Some broadcasters used their online outlets to inform viewers. Garry Kelly, news director of Allbritton-owned WCFT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Anniston said his station "did several reports via Skype, several where our reporter was in the field and literally did a live report through smart phone."
As power went out throughout the region, some television stations relied on local radio stations to continue covering the tornado. TVNewsCheck interviewed Sarkes Tarzian-owned WRCB-TV Chattanooga’s news director Derrall Stalvey who noted, "When the area started losing power, we were simulcasting on our radio partner WUSY-FM. That was how most people were getting information – battery-operated. That really saved a lot of lives."
Cox Broadcasting’s WAGG-AM, WBHK-FM, WENN-FM and WBHJ-FM Birmingham tracked the storm and stayed on the air throughout the night providing emergency info, opening phone lines, directing rescue teams to the injured, and helping to locate missing people. Cox stations carried live press conferences from Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Gov. Robert Bentley, state FEMA officials and Alabama Power Gas company representatives.
Local broadcasters’ severe weather reporting was so outstanding, Rep. Spencer Bachus, (AL-06), remarked, "I want to congratulate our TV and radio media because you saved many lives." Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley also relied on television broadcasts during the storm. Bentley’s spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis remarked that the governor used television weather radar and live camera feeds to issue storm warnings from the emergency operations center. On May 23, Gov. Bentley signed a commendation thanking Alabama broadcasters for the extensive coverage before, during and after the outbreak of storms that swept through the state.
Numerous stories from the Washington Examiner, The Wall Street Journal, Broadcasting & Cable, Radio Ink, The New York Times and TVNewsCheck discussed the influential role broadcasters played in covering the storm and assisting in the relief efforts in its wake. Additionally, a report from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) provides a thorough summary of radio and television stations’ outstanding efforts across Alabama.
As communities recover and rebuild, Raycom stations in the affected areas have collectively embarked on a campaign titled Road to Recovery. Road to Recovery delivers critical information on air and online about how to find and provide disaster relief, including how to donate money, blood and other essentials to aid in recovery efforts; how to help children cope with disaster and contact information for local, state and federal agencies providing support.
In addition to providing extended news coverage WBRC-TV aired a special program to help parents talk to their kids about the disaster. The station also gave out 500 free Midland HH-50 portable weather radios to those in need and plans to distribute another thousand.
Media General’s WVTM-TV Birmingham teamed up with the United Way to host a 22-hour tornado relief telethon to support relief efforts for victims. Alabama’s United Way Tornado Relief Telethon raised more than $800,000 as 200 radio and TV stations, websites and other media outlets across the U.S. supported the effort.
Huntsville-based WAFF-TV’s Road to Recovery Valley Volunteer-a-Thon garnered more than 100,000 hours of volunteer time. General Manager Vanessa Oubre pointed out that although many people were unable to donate money, they were more than willing to donate their time to help with recovery and cleanup efforts. "The response to this campaign has been tremendous from our own station staff to community organizations throughout the area," said Oubre.
In addition to collecting nearly $300,000 for the Red Cross, WSFA-TV Montgomery partnered with Life South to collect 553 pints of blood (the equivalent of 1659 lives saved) and also raised $60,000 and more than 70,000 pounds of food for an area food bank.
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