LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – It was August 1992. Hurricane Andrew made landfall in southeast Florida as a powerful Category 5 storm.
WHAS sent Gary Roedemeier to ride out the storm.
“I was here in the middle of the afternoon getting ready to do the newscast and suddenly the news director walks up and said to me 'you're going to New Orleans' and I also remember that was not too well received at my home. My wife said 'Gary people are LEAVING New Orleans they're not going there',” he said.
Hurricane Andrew roared east to west across Florida before churning toward Louisiana, weakening to a Category 3 before it hit.
“I notice that I was talking and walking and holding my hand out and gesturing but my hand was shaking and I don't know if I was cold or nervous but it was unnerving to have that intensity of rain and wind,” he said. “We were able to go live the day before the storm hit but then it came through in the middle of the night and it was relentless. I mean we thought the windows of the hotel we were staying in were going to break because they were leaking water around the sides of the windows.”
Bunkered down in a hotel, they rode out the storm.
And when the skies cleared, Gary brought Kentuckiana the stories of devastating loss, newfound hope and heartfelt compassion.
As Gary returned to Louisville, the television station sent Melissa Swan and photographer Donnie Ruark to Homestead, Florida – the town hardest hit by Andrew. Donnie remembers the devastation well.
“Until you've been in the middle of it pictures don't tell it – they can't you see it on a flat screen. But until you're walking around in it and everything's gone – flat moved whatever puddles and piles of clothes it's just amazing,” Donnie said.
Donnie and Melissa told the stories of the dozens of Kentuckiana volunteers that traveled to Homestead to help those in need.
Good Samaritans treating perfect strangers like family – serving food, cleaning debris and restoring hope.
There were no creature comforts. No electricity and no running water.
The pair slept on the floor of a church during their stay, ate what they could find and made do. There was a bigger picture in the stories they told – they helped put the damage in perspective and inspired others to send help.
“It was history we were covering I'm glad I could be part of it – to see it. It was just incredible,” Donnie said.
“I am pleased that Reed is continuing the tradition of WHAS going to the storm. I was thrilled to see him there last night I wish him well and safe passage,” Roedemeier said. “All stories are people stories and that's why it's important that Reed is there doing what he is doing and that we were there 25 years ago. It's just part of the American tablo and we need to do the best job we can telling the first draft of history.