There are many problems in writing about business in the aftermath of a hurricane. I spent some time in south Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew writing business-related stories, and the things that I experienced and saw during that time will be in my mind permanently.
For example, I spent a day with some insurance adjusters driving around to neighborhoods that had been hit hard by Andrew. There were people standing in the doors of what remained of their houses, holding guns, to prevent their possessions from being looted. While they were happy to see the insurance adjuster, they weren’t so sure about me. I experienced the same thing with business owners. Many of them were sleeping in their stores to prevent the looting. It was a dangerous thing to walk into a store where the glass windows and doors were gone and say, “Hello, is anybody here?”
I can also remember the heavy military presence. The National Guard was called out in Florida, and you had to get past their checkpoints to get in certain areas, like near Homestead where the destruction was the worst. I don’t think that I would have been able to get past some of those checkpoints if I had not been traveling with those adjusters.
The conditions in New Orleans are much different because of the flooding. There wasn’t as much flooding in South Florida, but there was a lot of water damage. But unless you’ve been in such a situation, you don’t realize how desperate these people are. You remember the blank looks on their faces, and the fact that they no longer have basic necessities like electricity, running water and a place to sleep. Unless you have experienced that yourselves, you can’t understand it.
Writing about business in such conditions was one of the most difficult stories I had ever covered. It’s also extremely hard to find anything if you’re not familiar with the area because the street signs and store signs are gone, and phone lines are not working. You have to rely on other reporting skills to find people to talk to.