Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Remembering the Jackson Tornados

It was slightly more than a year ago that a series of powerful tornados plowed through Jackson, Tennessee, killing fifteen people and levelling the downtown.

While just following links around last night, I found yet another WMC Channel 5 blogger: Jason Plank. They seem to proliferate like cicadas! He has this vivid post about his evening of chasing the storms and covering the damage.
Arriving in Newburn, there was indeed some damage. At the time, I honestly thought I would be bringing home the "video of the night." Among other things, I shot a UHaul truck that was blown over, a home that had it's roof blown off, and a lots of various wind damage to local buildings. While the weather there was still REALLY bad, I huddled with the camera under a gas station roof with a group of other people unfortunate enough to be out in it. I also phoned back to the station, and gave a report over the phone that ended up going on-air. The most striking thing I saw was when I went to the top of a hill, and pointed my camera east. The lighting was so constant and so bright that you almost didn't need any other light to see.

When I had everything I could get in Newburn, I was told to head back to Jackson. It was probably 11:30 or so by this time. Listening to 101.5, they kept talking high winds and a possible tornado in Jackson. At one point, I heard something to the effect of, "It's heading right for our location here downtown. We're going to take shelter now", followed by silence. Shortly after, calling the TV station was impossible as well...the line simply was dead.
Read the whole thing.

Jason also notes the calls a television station gets whenever they interrupt programming for weather alerts. I'm of divided mind on this. On the one hand, yes it's important to offer information that protects peoples' lives. It's part of their civic responsibility to the communties they serve. On the other hand, the stations really seem to leap at any serious storm and define "community" more by the reach of their radars than anything else. "Memphis' most powerful Doppler radar" (or whatever) suddenly becomes a guardian for Jonesboro, Arkansas, or Bolivar in Hardeman County, or Olive Branch, Mississippi. To the bulk of the viewing audience in Memphis, it's hard to embrace these far-flung places with our sympathies.

But Jason's post shows why. One Jackson viewer emailed to say: "I don't care if people are dying, put the damn show back on." People were dying -- fifteen of them. I wonder if the station ever later contacted that emailer to ask what he thought now?

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