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|| News Item: Posted 2005-10-03

Leading Off: Confessions of a Hurricane Newbie
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

You can never have too many gas cans or bottles of water to cover a hurricane.
I knew the call was coming and it finally did, right in the middle of a portrait shoot near San Diego.

When I called up my voice mail, USA TODAY's assistant DOP Julia Schmalz said that the paper wanted to send me to Texas so I would be in place after Hurricane Rita hit Houston and Galveston. So much for my concentration for the next 90 minutes of the shoot...

After sitting out Hurricane Katrina, I figured that I would probably be on "hurricane watch" after hearing on NPR that Rita was predicted to reach Category 5 by the time it came ashore in Texas.

Dividing my attention between my portrait subjects and thoughts of what I needed to do in a few short days to ready myself for my first hurricane was difficult ... I absentmindedly popped my strobe five times for a meter reading while wondering where my hiking boots were in my garage!

It was Tuesday and Rita would collide with the Gulf Coast Saturday ... plenty of time to gather what I already had for covering a disaster and get what I didn't.


Was I ready for this? Was I ready for any disaster (not just a hurricane 1,600 miles away)? Where the heck was that "earthquake kit" I assembled after the '94 Northridge 'quake?

Food. Gas. What about water? Do I need to take long glass? Would I need waders? How many pairs of socks do I need to take? All of those thoughts rattled around in my head as I packed up my lighting gear and then began the 3 - hour plus drive home.

Fortunately had lots of good information posted in the Message Board. Vince Laforet from the New York Times had lots of good advice and warnings:

"... you need SERIOUS resources at your disposal to do this semi-safely
1. bullet-proof vest (not essential but good to have)
2. SUV (don't even THINK about coming down with anything else)
3. Fuel and supplies - lots of them
4. SAT PHONE - cell towers have been going on and off - and are not reliable...
5. someone to back you if you get shot/stranded ..."

I emailed my colleague Jack Gruber, who like Vince, had spent time in Louisiana right after Katrina and a dozen questions and thoughts tumbled out of my head onto the computer screen before I hit the "send" button.

Jack replied quickly ... "I am just going to throw some other things out there and will think about others stuff later on..." he wrote. His list was wide ranging and as always, very thorough. It included some things I had (inverter, GPS, lightweight sleeping bag) and many things I didn't and hadn't even thought about (headlamp, synthetic clothing that dries easily, first aid kit, antibiotics, gas cans and toilet paper). Plus the one thing I really had wanted to know ... "bring lots of socks."

A call to Robert Seale in Houston provided more information and suggestions ... fix-flat, hand sanitizers, handy wipes (aka: shower in a can), bring as many gas cans as I could and buy gas and water as soon as I touched down in San Antonio.

Sound advice all. And the mad scramble was on.

The next day and a half was taken up by trips to Target, Sports Chalet, hardware stores and military surplus depots. I first ran out to the local "Army - Navy Store" in search of MREs ... which to my horror had turned into a skateboarder / paintball store!

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Essential supplies are needed to cover a hurricane.
Calls around So Cal for MREs proved fruitless, until the "Supply Sergeant" in Burbank said they still had MREs. Apparently there was a run on the pre-made meals in the days after Katrina ... and when I got to the Supply Sgt. I was told that there was a limit of just 3 per person! After pleading my case with the manager, he allowed me to buy as many as I wanted --- chicken tetrazzini, beef in teriyaki sauce with vegetables and chili with macaroni.


One thing I kept hearing over and over from not just those who had spent time covering Katrina but other hurricane veterans: Gas and gas cans.

My office suggested duct-taping 4 or 5 together and checking them as baggage for my flight to Texas. When I mentioned that to Darren Carroll, who lives in Austin and travels just about every week, he laughed and said, "Yeah and tape a Pocket Wizard to it and see what the TSA has to say about that!"

I decided I had time to ship the gas cans ahead of me.

I began packing up my Lightware case and backpack with the gear I had: cameras (2 bodies, 16-35, 28-300, flash, batteries and chargers), flashlights, batteries, energy bars, plastic sheeting, tape, computer gear, beef jerky, maps, iPod, breakfast bars, first aid kit with plenty of Imodium, water filter, several different Swiss Army Knives/ SOG Tools, GPS, sat phone ... and plenty of socks.

Was I ready?

I thought I was.

I am ALWAYS ready to cover a football game … and truth be known, a heck of a lot better at it than what guys like Vince and Jack can do covering a news event the magnitude of a hurricane.

But after I landed in San Antonio on Friday afternoon I made a couple of blunders that in hindsight didn't hurt me but sure could have. On the drive to Austin I was sort of lured into a little complacency because I heard on NPR that Rita had turned and would most likely spare the Houston-Galveston area of the massive destruction that was predicted.

Traffic out of the area was the biggest story but I saw lighter than usual traffic as I headed southeast. No lines at gas stations, no signs saying "out of gas", no panicked lines outside of grocery stores. So I just sped along thinking I would stock up on the other things I needed once I got to Austin.


While gas wasn't an issue Friday, water ended up being a problem. Several stores I went into (even Wal-Mart!) the bottled water aisles looked like a scene out of the "War of the Worlds"! I asked several clerks at the stores if they expected more bottled water to be delivered soon and the reply was always "Who knows?"

I ended up buying three cases of Gatorade and had visions of sleeping in the back of my rented SUV, eating a chili and mac MRE, gulping down some blue liquid.

Gas, while not a problem on the drive earlier Friday, started to sound more and more iffy ... especially after a photo on the front of the local paper showed gas pumps with "OUT" signs taped to them.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Robert Seale suggested that Hanashiro bring some Fix-Flat among the other supplies.
So off I went in search of a gas station that still had fuel to fill up my four 5-gallon gas cans. This sounds easy, but it actually isn't. Filling cans of gas and hauling them around in a vehicle is messy and smelly. One good piece of advice with regard to gas: Get a good siphon or funnel with a long neck to use to fill your car's tank and pay the money for the expensive metal gas cans … trust me on this. It took days for me to get rid of the smell of gasoline out of my system. I knew my wife Deanna was going to kick my ass (figuratively speaking) because my clothes would smell like gas!

It's funny, you drive around looking for gas and while you're doing this you're ... wasting gas!

While Vince suggested to photographers going into the Louisiana/Mississippi area to drive an SUV, Jack had an opposite theory.

"A mid-sized car gets about 350 - 400 miles on 12 -15 gallons of gas. I am actually a big fan of NOT taking a SUV but something that will save on gas mileage. If you have 20 gallons of gas in the trunk, that will get you about 350-400 miles," he told me.

But here I was, driving around the outskirts of Austin in a Chevy Blazer, sucking down gas like it was nothing. Even after I filled my gas cans, I found myself stopping to refill the Blazer when the gauge went past the 1/4 tank mark!

In the end, my stay in Texas was brief ... I was equipped, mentally ready (I think) and smelly with the scent of gasoline.

I have taken the information from Jack and Vince, plus what I learned during my own bumbling and am preparing a new "earthquake kit" for my home and a small "go kit" to throw in the car when needed.

I have plenty of socks, that's for sure.

* * *

To balance a silly column on my efforts to get ready to cover Rita, we have three articles in this issue from photographers who spent real time in the Gulf Coast area. Vince Laforet writes about his experiences, especially how to adjust and cope after working in a disaster area. Justin Sullivan returned home from vacationing in Hawaii to see firsthand the hardships and destruction that Katrina wrought and Anthony Bolante gives us a different perspective, that of rescue worker.

Our last article is by Sports Illustrated picture editor Porter Binks, giving his observations and thoughts on portfolio submissions.

So sit back, adjust the contrast on your monitor, turn up the volume on that new Fiona Apple disk and enjoy Sports Shooter v.83.

As always, thanks to Special Advisors & Contributors: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Anne Ryan, Rick Rickman, Joe Gosen, Peter Read Miller, Rod Mar, Vincent Laforet, Trent Nelson, Jason Burfield, Grover Sanschagrin, Photodude, Scott Sommerdorf, Reed Hoffmann and Bob Deutsch.

Thanks this month to: Justin Sullivan, Anthony Bolante and Porter Binks.

I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at

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