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President Commends Gulf Coast Broadcasters

Even as several members of Congress were blaming broadcasters for public safety communications problems, President Bush was penning a letter commending them for their contributions during Hurricane Katrina.

"I learned about your extraordinary contributions to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I appreciate your efforts, and our whole nation is grateful for your kindness and generosity," the president said in a letter to the National Association of Broadcasters.

The NAB and its members helped raise nearly $200 million for hurricane relief. They also provided thousands of battery-operated TVs and radios Louisiana and Mississippi so residents could access to local broadcasts, some of which were produced via extraordinary efforts.

Station KLPC in Lake Charles, La., at ground zero of Hurricane Rita, continued to broadcast throughout the ordeal, according to from Jim Keelor, President and CEO of Liberty Corp., which owns KLPC. Keelor forwarded the following in an e-mail to NAB. It has been edited for brevity:

"Many of you already know that the staff of KPLC evacuated the studio for a safer location before the hurricane came on shore. They broadcast and streamed from the break room of a nearby hospital. The storm was hellish; hours of 100-plus mile-per-house winds, heavy rain and a storm surge that impacted the nearby lake and Inter Coastal shipping channel. There was flooding, massive wind damage, power outages, and serious infrastructure damage throughout the DMA.

"Working under crude conditions, KPLC continued to broadcast throughout the storm. Streaming video was served until the eye wall hit the downtown. The on-air and online coverage was basic, but exactly what the community needed; factual information, real-time reports from citizens in their homes, boats and businesses; official weather reports, live interviews with emergency officials, station weather professionals explaining exactly what was and would happen, words of comfort, and a few laughs.

"They got calls from frightened people on the coast who stayed behind. A person riding out the storm on a boat was watching KPLC on a battery-powered TV; he called to chat. An invalid woman called to say she missed the evacuation bus and was trapped with her pet at home. KPLC anchors asked for someone to help her; minutes later, with the wind whipping up, someone went to her home and rescued her. Tornado warnings were passed along with help from a meteorologist from WAVE. Without access to a weather wire, KPLC depended on Kevin Hartnett at WAVE to call with updated emergency weather warnings. To aid the hearing impaired, the warnings were handwritten on cards and propped up on the table the anchors were seated behind.

"Chief Engineer John Scott was the last person to leave the studio. He closed the studio, locked it tight when it was no longer safe to be in the building. He left the ESP: LIVE system on... constantly updating radar, the switcher set with a double box (radar and the hospital feed), and on final check of the microwave system that bounced the hospital signal from the station STL to the transmitter 17 miles away.

"When John returned to the station hours later, after the storm passed, the building was dry and undamaged. The generator never wavered. The microwave dish withstood 100 mile-per-hour winds..."

"Jim Serra and his handful of employees (most everyone in Calcasieu Parish, including KPLC employees, obeyed the mandatory evacuation order) hauled in cooking pits to the station back lot Sunday night. They gathered all the food from everyone's freezer, cooked it and had a party. That is the Cajun way. Work hard, take care of each other, celebrate life and get back to work."