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Houston’s broadcasters provide information to powerless residents

With about 70 percent of Houston’s homes without electrical service due to Hurricane Ike, the city’s four network affiliate television stations last week turned to the Internet to provide information to stricken viewers.

The area — the 10th largest U.S. television market — covers about 5.5 million viewers from Houston to Galveston. There were shortages of essential supplies including food, water and fuel after the massive storm ravaged the area. In addition, standing water and piles of storm debris pose health risks to residents.

KPRC (Channel 2), KHOU (Channel 11), KTRK (Channel 13) and KRIV (Channel 26) began wall-to-wall storm coverage three days before the storm hit. Each has continued on-the-air ever since.

However, because few television sets can work in the region due to the loss of power, most stations are using their Web sites to relay information and stream video to residents. KHOU reported that unlike Hurricane Rita in 2005, when the phones were jammed, this time viewers are using e-mail to communicate with the station.

About 100 KHOU staffers stayed overnight in the station during the storm. Later, they worked 12-hour shifts. As the days after the storm played out, most stations stayed on with coverage.

KPRC news director Skip Valet said his station was using a computer application that allowed reporters to plug cameras into their laptops and broadcast from moving vehicles or from locations such as the Galveston seawall.

Audio feeds also were available on radios configured to receive TV sound. The latter was a lifeline for many without power. In fact, with so many people limited to radios because of power outages, KHOU news director Keith Connors said his reporters and anchors tried to report stories as if they were speaking to the visually impaired.

Rep. Gene Greene, D-TX, said more than 90 percent of his district was without power, and his own battery-powered TV set was a lifeline to important news and information.