September 2, 2021

Since Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans on Sunday, Peyton LoCicero Trist has worked the way a lot of journalists there have — out in the field all day with a photographer, filing from her car, offering whatever information and stories she can find. 

Trist can’t go back to her newsroom, though. It got hit by the hurricane. And that marks the second time a hurricane hit a TV station where she worked. 

In 2018, she worked at WMBB in Panama City as a bureau reporter in Okaloosa County. As Hurricane Michael headed toward Florida’s panhandle, Trist’s bosses told her to stay in Destin. She watched her colleagues live when anchor Amy Hoyt said, “It sounds like a train is coming over the roof of the TV station, I mean, our building is shaking …” 

“And all of the sudden they went to black.”

Twenty minutes later, Trist got a call from the station — everyone was OK.

“You’re the only one who can still broadcast, go on Facebook,” she was told, “go on Twitter, call WFLA.”

For the next eight hours, I was broadcasting alone,” Trist said. 

The next day, through a maze of fallen trees and powerlines, she was able to get back to the station. She crawled through a window in the general manager’s office to get inside, and found water, darkness and an awful smell. WMBB set up trailers and got back on the air as staff there dealt with the loss of their own homes. 

Trist’s contract was up, but when she was asked to stay to help cover recovery efforts, she did so for another nine months. In 2019, she was awarded the Dick Fletcher Excellence in Media Award for her hurricane coverage.

Trist moved to New Orleans in 2019, and on Sunday, when Hurricane Ida hit, she was inside WGNO in Metairie. (The Panama City station and the New Orleans station are both owned by Nextstar Media Group.) She’d just finished her shift and was planning to catch a little sleep, but as every gust of wind hit, “It sounded like it was a huge truck running into the side of our building.”

People eyed the station’s eighth-floor glass ceiling warily. 

“And then all of the sudden we heard a really loud crash.” 

A report from that night showed what happened. 

Now, a cleaning crew from South Florida is in town and helping with cleanup at the station. Jefferson Parish, where WGNO is located, doesn’t have water yet, but the station has a generator and is able to keep broadcasting.

It’s brought back a lot of memories for Trist, and she’s not wasting what she learned the first time around. She’s working to help her colleagues remember to keep their heads clear. 

“The lights will come back on soon,” she said, “the power will come back on … keep telling the stories that matter.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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