Rita: Going the Distance

Video: Rita Raw

Sept. 26, 2005

There were plenty of moments when I just shook my head and smiled in defeat, soaking wet and hammered by howling wind and stinging horizontal rain.

I felt silly and stupid, and probably looked it too.

When the raindrops hit my face, it hurt, like pops from a tiny gun. When my eyes caught the rain, it hurt more. I never got slammed to the ground, but almost did once, buckling to my knees in a particularly powerful gust. I also got pushed back hard several times, a few times bouncing off the door, fender, of our SUV.

For hours and hours we stood in the storm, feeling like bells should be ringing every few minutes to signal the end of one round and the start of another.

This was a true endurance test of mind, spirit, and energy. As the storm intensified, I grew more weary — weak, battered and edgy — but somehow still exhilarated. Hurricanes are a rush. Still, our sanity and intelligence can be legitimately questioned.

"Get out while you still can," we all warned, and here we were in the middle of it, daring a metal sign or piece of glass to slice us up, or a gust of 100-mph air to knock us down.

This time though, I felt relatively safe and secure, despite the dangers swirling around, above and below us. We had probably the best location I've ever found in the dozens of hurricanes I've chased.

First, we weren't on the ground, where most of the debris flies and the flood waters rise and other hazards like snakes and gators and downed power lines slither about.

Second, we had excellent cover, a place to retreat to when things got too nasty or we had a few minutes to rest.

Third, our truck was so well protected by high walls on two sides that we never lost our satellite signal. Apparently we were the only crew from any network in the region to provide continuous pictures through the night.

* * *

It was part luck and part experience that led us to the L'Auberge du Lac Hotel and Casino before dawn Friday. After our early shift Thursday, we volunteered to move from Surfside Beach, Texas towards the Port Arthur area since that's where it looked like Rita was headed, but FNC already had a couple of teams there so they told us to find a spot further west, in Lake Charles.

We drove through the night with no idea where we'd end up, and when we came to a fork in the road we chose the southern 210 loop, which put us on a high bridge over the Calciseu shipping channel. That's when I saw the hotel, dozens of stories tall, rising from the riverbank like the castle in the Wizard of Oz.

We drove up to the darkened front entrance and said hello to the security guard, who directed us around back and talked to his supervisor who got us permission to stay. Then our truck operator, Simon Talbot of Locked Stream Communications, parked his rig right up against the side of the building, with 30-40 foot walls protecting him from the West and the South.

We ran cables to the roof of the adjacent four-story parking garage, and positioned ourselves at the door of a concrete block stairwell. My photographer, "Hollywood" John Kisala, could stand inside and point his camera out the door, capturing the wind and rain blowing past the lights on the deck without jeopardizing his gear. I could stand inside with him, or step just beyond the door and still be somewhat protected by the stairwell's exterior wall. Of course, the most dramatic shots were when both of us braved the elements, and we did this on-and-off all night long.

We started our shots late Friday morning, and went live every hour or half hour throughout the day and evening. We took a break between 8 p.m. and midnight, and were back on the air almost nonstop from 1 a.m. until 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

Even with two layers of rain slickers, my T-shirt was soaking wet minutes after stepping outside for the first hit. My hat was soaked too, water pouring off the brim onto my face. Still, it gave my face welcome protection whenever I tilted my head down, which I did as much as I could.

I know. I could've stayed inside the stairwell. I did from time to time. And I know, I still could've been hit by flying debris, even if we were up high. Broken glass did litter our feet, and I watched a parking lot sign rip off a light pole and fly past us. It was a calculated risk. We had a vehicle alongside us offering some additional protection from projectiles, and there simply wasn't that much stuff in the air where we were.

The thing is, showing the wind and rain on the garage roof doesn't really convey the true power of the storm. Standing in it, being able to describe the force and feel of the weather, is what makes the story so riveting and compelling, and for me, telling the best stories is what it's all about.

Click here to e-mail Rick.


Keep up the great work. We are waiting to see what happened to our home in Holly Beach. We said good bye to our friends and the beach on Thursday morning.

Holly Beach, LA


I stayed awake most all night watching your coverage and praying for you, Hollywood, the sat truck guy, and the truck that kept bouncing around. I kept watching today, to see how you survived. I guess I did doze off somewhere along the line and woke up to Cavuto and crew and not a word about you! Geraldo was there, and all the others, but no Rick! Pray you are safe -- probably sacked out all day, which would be great for you, and hopefully a hot shower and hot food (with no PB).

Your coverage is always the best ! Iraq, MS, NY, TX, LA, wherever.


I trust your reporting. Thanks for being a "regular" guy and not one of those types that's worried about their hair all the time!


Great job last night in Lake Charles, by the way. I would be perfectly happy to have you guys reporting while looking out a window. I personally don't need you to risk your lives to show me pictures of wind and rain….. We didn't lose power until around 2:30, so we were up watching FNC.


Hey Rick,

Thanks for going into detail on your Rita tracking adventure. Sometimes it seems to us viewers that field reporters just magically appear on TV (ala Star Trek transporters). Your schedule breakdown puts it into perspective and make us realize that reporting is not all fun and fame.

Based on your rundown, I can say it paid off. Your Lake Charles coverage was primo! Kudos and thanks to you, "Hollywood", your field producer(s) and support staff for a job well done and for providing such dramatic images.

J. Ariel


Your coverage of Hurricane Rita's landfall has kept me glued to my TV literally all night. I was very glad to see you had somewhere close by to go for some shelter. Thanks for another great job, and props to Hollywood and the sat truck guy for keeping you on air all night long!

Washington, DC

Dear Rick:

I believe you and your crew at Lake Charles, LA are doing the BEST coverage of Hurricane Rita from your stairwell! Please be safe and get some needed rest! I'm a night owl and it's 3:11 AM Pacific time. Every time you are on, I'm watching!

Fox News is the BEST!

Palm Springs, CA


What an effort! You are marvelous! My thanks to Hollywood and you're staff, also!

Arlington, Ma.

No longer a Larry King fan!!


I am clicking around watching the various reports, your’s is the best! Hang in there. Thanks.



You are very brave person. I think Rita will hit hard. I am very concerned for you and your crew. I hope you enough peanut butter, Beef jerky, drinks and etc. Please! Be careful and safe.


Personal stories of yourself and co-workers, like the fuel story and getting peanut butter, I find interesting for some crazy reason. There is just so much that can be said about how high the water will come in and at what time and where. It's the moment-by-moment getting through the situation I find appealing.

New Albany, Miss.