9 of the best news stories about hurricanes

Here's some of the best reporting on hurricanes -- from Sandy to Frances to Katrina -- and their aftermath

Topics: ProPublica, Hurricanes, Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, Natural Disasters, New Orleans, New York City, reporting, , , ,

Mid-August marks the start of peak hurricane season, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that this year’s is likely to be worse than usual, with a forecast of 13 to 19 named storms. We’ve round up some of the best reporting on hurricanes and what happens after they’re over — from  inept planning to police abuses to waste and misspending during the recovery.

After the Flood, This American Life, September 2005

The week after Katrina struck New Orleans, This American Life devoted its show to giving “people who were in the storm more time than daily news shows could give, to tell their stories and talk about what happened.”

One of those people was Denise Moore, who took shelter at the New Orleans Convention Center after the levees failed. “What they kept doing the whole time was tell us to line up for the buses that never came” she told Ira Glass. “It was like they were doing drills every four hours. You all have to line up for the bus. And if you bum rush the bus, they’re just going to take off without you, and nobody is going to get to go anywhere. You have to line up. You have to be in a straight line. We’re talking about old people in wheelchairs and women with babies in lines, waiting for buses that you know God damn well aren’t coming, like they were playing with us.”

The Deadly Choices at Memorial, ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine, August 2009

ProPublica reporter Sheri Fink spent two and a half years reconstructing what happened at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina. She found that the exhausted, overwhelmed doctors intentionally injected a number of patients with lethal doses of morphine and the sedative midazolam during the chaotic evacuation of the hospital.

From Blue Tarps to Debris Removal, Layers of Contractors Drive Up the Cost of Recovery, Critics Say, The Times-Picayune, December 2005



The federal contractors hired using the $60 billion Congress earmarked for the Katrina recovery hired subcontractors, who hired sub-subcontractors — a process that sometimes produced sub-sub-sub-sub-subcontractors, or “fifth-tier subs,” and helped to drive up the cost of recovery. “In other words,” The Times-Picayune reported, “the guy spinning a Bobcat choked with tree limbs on a residential street may be earning as little as $1 per cubic yard of debris, although the prime contractor may be billing 20 times that amount for the service.”

After Katrina, New Orleans Cops Were Told They Could Shoot Looters, ProPublica, Frontline and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 2010

One commander told New Orleans police officers they had the “authority under martial law to shoot looters” in the days after Katrina, according to a videotape of his remarks. Two New Orleans cops said that the department’s second-in-command at the time, gave a similar order, even though police had no such authority under the law.

The story was part of a series on cop shootings after Katrina. Another story in the series looked at the case of Henry Glover, whose remains were found inside a burned-out car in the days after Katrina. Two witnesses said police had refused to help Glover after he had been shot and they drove him to a police command post. A cop later drove off with his body still in the car. After the stories, three officers were charged and convicted in connection with Glover’s death. An appeals court later overturned two of the convictions.

Behind a Call That Kept Nursing Home Patients in Storm’s Path, The New York Times, December 2012

The day before Hurricane Sandy struck, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation of New York City’s low-lying neighborhoods. But the city recommended that residents of nursing and adult homes in the same areas ride out the storm. The decision led to difficult evacuations through sand and debris after the storm, which “severely flooded” least 29 such facilities in Queens and Brooklyn.

How New Jersey Transit Failed Sandy’s Test, WNYC, May 2013

Hurricane Sandy inundated 19 of the 8,000 rail cars operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority. It engulfed hundreds of New Jersey Transit cars, more than a quarter of the fleet, thanks to the decision in yards that flooded. An investigation by WNYC and The Record newspaper in New Jersey found that NJ Transit had used maps built inaccurate numbers that showed the yards wouldn’t flood.

Suffering on Long Island As Power Agency Shows Its Flaws, The New York Times, November 2012

Two weeks after Sandy hit, more than 10,000 Long Island Power Authority customers still didn’t have power. A Times investigation found that the government-run authority had “repeatedly failed to plan for extreme weather” and had fallen behind on trimming tree limbs near power lines. At the same time, the authority had become “a rich source” of high-paid patronage jobs for politicians’ friends and relatives.

Miami-Dade Cleans Up on FEMA Aid, The Sun Sentinel, November 2004

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent $28 million worth of relief to Miami-Dade County in Florida after Hurricane Frances hit in 2004, even though the brunt of the storm struck 100 miles north of the county. The damage in Miami-Dade was limited to “a few fallen and power lines.” But FEMA shelled out for new cars, lawn mowers, thousands of appliances and even a funeral in Miami-Dade, even though no one in the county died in the storm. The story is part of a Sun Sentinel series investigating FEMA.

Weak Insurers Put Millions of Floridians at Risk, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 2010

Big insurance companies like State Farm and Allstate fled the Florida property insurance market after Katrina hammered the Gulf Coast in 2005. A Herald-Tribune investigation found that millions of Floridians had turned to tiny insurance companies that had taken their place, which had nowhere near enough money to cover the billions of dollars in property they insured. Lawmakers and regulators had “ignored warnings and encouraged private companies to stretch their limited cash further.”

Want more hurricane coverage? Check out our ongoing series on FEMA and the challenge of rebuilding after storms as the climate changes.

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    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

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    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

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    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

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    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

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    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

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    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

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