Fear in the Face of Hurricane Dean

Video: Steve Harrigan reports from Cancun
E-mail: Steve Harrigan

3.46 p.m. Miami

To cover a hurricane, you want to be in the worst possible place that allows you to broadcast. For some media, that means going to where the eye of the storm is expected to hit. In the case of Dean and the Yucatan, this meant about 90 miles south of Cancun.

We arrived in Cancun from an earthquake in Peru. The night flights were late and we were beat. When we got out on the sand in Cancun on Sunday afternoon, it was sunny and warm. Already out there on the sand in shorts and a black T-shirt, I recognized master storm tracker Jim Cantore.

We found some tourists who were going to stick it out. One woman from Philadelphia saved for her vacation all year and did not want to spend it in a shelter.

The eye was moving, as it always did. You got to one place where it was projected, then it moved and you had to move, too.

That's what was happening now. One network had already left south. Another one was leaving. I asked Mike Amor, our engineer, and Alfredo DeLara, our cameraman, what we ought to do.

If the other network moved south and got better storm pictures then we did, it would look bad for us. Someone said there was a large resort area down there and someone else said it wasn't a good idea to blindly travel south during a hurricane in a foreign country, to a place you didn't know.

That made sense. In the end, it is a gut call, since anyone who has ever been in a hurricane knows, there is not an exact science of tracking them. We decided to stay put in the fortress hotels of Cancun.

The best ones have bullet-proof glass. The problem with this is, if you sign three waivers to stay in your room and then talk to security to allow you to stay outside, they lock the doors. They lock the bullet-proof doors and leave. Even if you are 90 miles north of the eye, on the dirty side of the storm — if you look on the map, it’s one of those red swirls — just for a minute or two, it’s enough to knock you down. You can’t do anything but try to run.

When the map says red in a five, the wind, rain and sand mix and pelt your eyes; if you forgot your goggles, you keep them closed, or open with pain. You get knocked down once you get scared, and you think about dropping the cables and anything else in your hands. You want to run, so you can yell to your team in the hotel, but in the wind, no one can hear you. You get scared, you get a panic attack, the kind that people sometimes get in cubicles. You lose your cool, your perspective, your judgment and think, “I'm gonna die, this is how I'm gonna die.” You pound the glass with your hand first, then look at the mic for a second and think, “I'll pay for the door,” and pound with it while you hold on with one hand. The mic snaps in two, because it is bulletproof glass.

So you know you can't get in, you know no one is there, and you know no one can hear you. You can run around to the front and try and get in, but you are scared to let go of the bar, and the wind is getting stronger. But of course, eventually, the two guys with you come to get you, and aren't happy about what you forgot in your panic.

"I thought I was gonna go down."

"If you go down, we all go down."

Steve Harrigan is an FNC reporter based out of Miami. Click here to read his bio.

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.