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Sept. 2, 2004 10:57 p.m.

“Fort Lauderdale,” I say as I approach the airport counter.

The ticket agent smiles at me. “I wouldn’t stay long if I were you. One day and get out!” 

I manage a smile back.  “I gotta be there for the storm,” I tell him.

"It’s the size of Texas, and Texas is the size of Egypt,” he says.  “They say it could be the worst hurricane EVER.”

I'm exhausted from a long convention week, with little sleep, getting ready to head into a potentially long, dangerous, grueling few days of storm coverage.

“Great,” I say as he hands me my boarding pass.

I’ve been a reporter for more than 17 years, and have covered my share of hurricanes, including three of the biggest in recent memory.  I was in Charleston, South Carolina for Hugo in 1989, the scariest night of my life.  I was in South Florida in 1992 when Andrew blew in, and Cape Fear (Wilmington, N.C.) for Floyd in 1999.  I got soaked by Danny in the Florida panhandle, and chased a few others without catching the eye. 

Hugo was frightening because I was caught out in the middle of it, with 120 mile-per-hour sustained winds snapping trees, breaking glass, and blowing transformers all around me as I hugged the brick wall of a hotel, inching my way around the exterior in the dark, praying as I searched for my room.  Hugo did serious damage, but Andrew did far worse, a wide swath of south Dade county completely devastated by winds that in some areas may have topped 200 miles-per-hour. 

I saw things I still can’t believe, like a huge industrial-size freezer that weighed hundreds of pounds blown off a back porch and across the FRONT yard, somehow winding up in a drainage ditch across the street.  I toured a couple’s home and big yard in the Redlands that was littered with sections of roofs from houses so far down the road you couldn’t see them.  There were large metal C-clamps that didn’t belong to them littering the lawn, and a ten-pound bowling ball in its carrying case.  They had no idea who’s it was.  How does a bowling ball get picked up by the wind and carried hundreds of yards?

The experts say Frances is just like Andrew.  And Hugo.  Only TWICE the size.  We’ll see if she keeps her strength, and stays on course.

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A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the hurricane. After we boarded our American Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale and pulled away from the gate, just as I was falling asleep there was an announcement. There’d been a security breach. We had to go back to the gate, and we’d all have to deplane.  With all of our stuff.  Something had been found that didn’t belong to any of the passengers.  So I grab my briefcase and suitcase and deplane along with my producer Gary Gastelu and our engineer Don Collopy.  And as we’re sitting there at the gate, waiting to find out what possibly could have prompted the evacuation of the jet, a couple of plain clothes TSA detectives walk up, hold a quick meeting, and proceed down the ramp to the plane.  I look at Gary and Don and say “This isn’t just some misplaced bag.  There’s something bad on that plane!”  I didn’t expect anyone at the counter to give up any information, but I walked over to one of the agents to see what I could find out.  He wasn’t much help, so I turned to a group of three flight attendants. 

“What’s the object?” I asked.  After a slight hesitation, one of them answered.  “A knife.”
I couldn’t believe my ears.  There was a KNIFE on the plane? “How big was it?” I asked.  “Three inch blade,” I was told.  “And sharp.  Very sharp.” 

I asked what happened, and they told me a passenger had found the weapon in a seat back pocket and called over one of the flight attendants, who notified the pilot who redirected the plane back to the gate.

A knife? Are you kidding me?  At least the TSA detectives were taking it seriously.  All of us passengers were rounded up and directed back through the security checkpoint, going through the screeners and showing our boarding passes, while the rest of the aircraft was searched.  We were then allowed to re-board, and eventually, almost three hours after our scheduled departure, we finally took off for Florida.  On the way back to the plane one of the detectives recognized me, and we spoke for a couple minutes.  He told me the blade was thin, and likely would’ve broken if anyone had tried to use it, but who knows?  He theorized someone had left it on the plane on the flight up from Ft. Lauderdale, just before we got on.  But why?  Did they forget it?  Were they testing security?  Hoping to cause a disruption?  All I know is, if someone got a sharp metal blade on a plane, our airport security is obviously still not where it should be. And this is something we should ALL be upset about.

Rick,
 
We have something in common. Your article stated that in 1989 you experienced your scariest night ever as Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston, SC. When Hugo reached Northwestern Pennsylvania on September 23, 1989 (as a Tropical Depression), I too experienced the scariest night of my life...........it was my wedding night!! I haven't been the same since.................Keep up the great reporting.

— Jeff
P.S. Yes, we are still happily married..................15 years this month.

Hi Rick, 
I believe that I speak for many when I say we absolutely love the blog, and that you're doing a great job (as always) on it.  Because you're usually on during the day while I'm at work, it gives me a chance to get one of your reports.  Great photos too- my favorite is the one with you and Zell Miller.  I'm sorry you didn't get to hear President Bush's remarks and have a fully 'fair and balanced' experience (in reference to your being able to compare the experiences).  We look forward to seeing more blog reports.  Please stay safe in 'the eye of the storm' - we'll all be living vicariously through your reports.  Take care,  Natalie


Rick,

As everyone else is leaving the area because of the dangers of the storm, you guys are moving in. Be Careful.
 
 Jennifer from Mo.

Hi Rick,
 
I came to care about you and Greg Kelly while you guys were covering the war in Iraq.  I felt as if I were riding along with you in the Humvee as you traveled through the desert.  I kept my television locked on FOX during the whole event.  I worried and prayed for your safety when you were unavailable for a few days.  You guys did a fabulous job.  You both are true patriots!  I hope we continue to see more of you and Greg!
 
By the way, good luck reporting from Florida.  I too am prepping for this monster they call Hurricane Frances.  Stay safe and on your toes!! Thanks for your wonderful work.

— Cathey (Lake Alfred, FL)


Dear Mr. Leventhal,
 Just a brief note of thanks for your continued good work for FOX News. I first became acquainted with your reportage while glued to the TV during the second gulf war. Watching your (justifiable) concern turn to comfort while you were with our troops during the run to Baghdad really put a human face on the conflict- it was almost as if I were watching a good buddy in the armed services sending live feed to my home.

— Michael



Rick,
 
I love your blog, and cant wait to read it every night! I hope this is not a temporary thing. Keep up the good work, and be careful in Florida!
 
Patricia

Rick,

Sorry you are going to miss the President's speech.  Stay safe in Florida!!!  I'll be watching as always.  — Julie

We want to see you more!!!!!!  You crack me up and you’re not bad to look at either!!!



Rick, glad to see you with your own "blog." Will look forward to keeping up with you more frequently. During your time as an "embedded" reporter, got used to relying on your reports and have missed you since. Good luck.

— J A (Cottonwood, AZ)


I became a big fan of yours when you tagged along with the Marines to Baghdad.  Could not believe what you reporters did to get the story for us. And......I will never forget the discussion you and Shep had about cats and the sand!!!!!!!!  I still laugh!
Judy



I have been thoroughly enjoying your reports from the RNC.  Unfortunately, I'm at work while you're reporting so I catch up with you on foxnews.com.  Keep up the great work and I look forward to your next assignment!!

Jennifer



Rick,

So many things I want to tell you.  How wonderful your reporting was on the road to Baghdad; how terrific a reporter you are; how worried I was about you when you weren't on any news broadcasts from Iraq for a few days; how I prayed for you and the unit you were with to be safe.  But I don't want to embarrass you with any of that.  I'll just tell you that you look so very much of my nephew, Andy, whom I love like a little brother.  Every time I see you, I think of him.

Your friend,
Toni


I enjoy your blog and look foward to reading what your experiences are throughout the convention..You should do this in your future travels with FOX as you convey the "goings on" in short and with a dash of wit...Just what you need, more work...
Keep up the good job!
— Maria (Hackensack, NJ)



Tricky Ricky,

You had commented  that it was a sweatbox in Boston and freezing in NY. You pretty much summed it up in your own words. The Democrats are a bunch of "hotheads" and the Republicans are a bunch of "cool" cats.
 
Missed you on "Studio B" today. Shep had Jane on instead. You know why, don't you? She's prettier than you are.
 
— Jennifer


I came to know you from your coverage in the war. I came to feel that you were a good friend. Prayed for you each day and glad that you made it home safe. I hope you will have great success at Fox News. I really enjoy your reporting.

—  Sidney (Dallas)


Rick,
 
Love your work BTW.  I met Bo at a Dole rally a few years back.  In short, she is phenomenal.  Make sure you do.  Good luck.

— Todd


Rick: You never fail to interest and entertain me. You are truly the finest reporter in the nation. I loved watching you during the War with the Marines and I love reading your blog about the convention. Stay the course.

— Stephanie


Rick,

Hello fellow rambler. I myself can relate since I too am known to ramble. Well looking forward to seeing you reporting throughout the week at the RNC on "Studio B" with your buddy Shep.

— Jennifer


Rick,

My wife and I want to thank you for your magnificent reporting on the road to Bagdad. You are a great example of a warrior and newsman!  Keep safe!!  Two fans.