Channel 4 anchor has questions about Katrina

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Popular broadcaster still wonders why ‘unprecedented’ word is used


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – Channel 4 anchor/reporter Lucy Bustamante is still wondering why so many people call Hurricane Katrina an unprecedented storm.

&#8220We knew all along that a storm of that magnitude would do what it did,” she said, speaking to the LaPlace Rotary Club this week as the guest for the day. &#8220I remember when I was the age of 2 and at that time people were hearing of problems that a Category 3 storm could bring. So I don’t know why they keep saying this was an unprecedented storm.”

Bustamante, one of the rising stars on the New Orleans television scene, began at WWL in 2004 and worked throughout the Hurricane Katrina disaster with all the others.

&#8220We always were asked if we were biased when we did stories, and from the beginning, you knew that you couldn’t take yourself out of the situation,” she said. &#8220So we have always acknowledged we are part of what has happened, but tried to do the best we could to still report the stories objectively.”

Bustamante’s family is all from Cuba, coming to the United States as refugees, and she was the first American born child from the family.

That led her recently to take a trip back to Cuba for a visit that has impacted her almost as much as Katrina.

&#8220It is a different world, and much of what you see on the news, showing dilapidated homes is true,” she said. &#8220I don’t know if you will ever get the complete true story when talking to people because everything is owned by the government. So when you start talking to someone, they know they had better watch out what they say since we would leave, and things such as torture, jail or even death could happen to them for what they said.”

Her work day now consists of showing up about 1 p.m. and working until 11 p.m. And ironically, she is now the direct competition of John Snell on another local network.

&#8220John was my mentor from years ago, so I told him that it is so strange that we are now competing at the same time,” she said.

She had kind words for the LaPlace Rotary Club, which on this day showed their usual work in the community by handing a check to St. John Sheriff Wayne Jones for almost $1,00 to buy bulletproof vests, after raising it at a car wash.

&#8220So many of the stories we have to do are negative, since it is about what the government should be doing, but isn’t,” she noted. &#8220But here you have non-profits like the Rotary Club, and so many more, which have come into an area like this after the storm and done so much good. I commend you for that work.”

She remembers one story in Cuba of nearly running out of money, and knowing her group had to get back, since it took 10 days to get money wired in from Switzerland if you ran out of cash.

&#8220There are no credit cards you can use down there,” she said.

And the government run country was clear when one man called her over to complain about a nearby house where a roof had caved in, killing a woman. He said it took 10 days for the government to come and get the woman out of the house.

When asked what her most interesting story was, she remembered the Katrina event when local law enforcement was making many arrests, but had no active jail to put them in.

&#8220They brought Burl Cain down here, who was the warden of Angola prison, and it was amazing to see him rush into action, using fence from Home Depot, and the Amtrak train station to make a jail,” she said. &#8220Then there was a funny story of a man who stole a car and drove to what he thought was the train station, only to be arrested for stealing the car since he was suddenly at the newly created jail.”

WWL TV knew how a Category 3 storm could break down the levees, and used those reports from decades ago when they decided to build their New Orleans transformer in a particular area of the city that they were told was safe from the storm.

&#8220That’s exactly what we did, and that’s why we were the only news station after the storm to be broadcasting,” Bustamante said.

She said the result was that the WWL web site was getting 16 million hits a day after the storm from all around the world, with people trying to find out more about the aftermath of the hurricane.