Reporter’s Notebook: Trying to get to Hurricane Irma

Reporter's Notebook

Sean Callebs and Mike Miller after finally arriving in the Miami area. Photo: Mike Miller

Dulles – Delayed – Depressed.

It is 7:40 p.m., on a Thursday, Sept. 7. My flight from Dulles International Airport to Miami was supposed to take off about one hour ago.

Because of all the traffic with people fleeing Irma’s wrath, we, like so many other flights, had to be held up to clear airspace in Miami due to the massive evacuations.

8:10 p.m. – Settled in my seat, on a half-full flight. I am actually surprised there are so many people heading into Miami.

10:02 p.m. – On an uneventful flight, the pilot says over the intercom that due to a situation on the ground, we must either stay in an indefinite holding pattern, or divert 300-kilometers north to Tampa.

It is a relatively small aircraft, so the pilot turns the plane around worried about a possible fuel shortage.

10:39 p.m. – We land in Tampa. During the descent I saw lightning in the distance. Is this Irma?, I think, no it can’t be.

10:47 p.m. – The crew tells us to wait on the ground because they are trying to get another pilot to fly us to Miami. Due to safety conditions about the number of hours the crew has worked, they cannot continue the trip.

10:51 p.m. – I call my bosses at CGTN and see if someone can book a rental car so I can make the four-hour drive to Miami. Within minutes, a SUV is reserved.

Sean’s first Facebook Live after arriving in the Miami area:

10:56 p.m. – Still on the plane. Across the aisle, a man with an Italian accent asks if he can share the ride, since he too needs to get to Miami. I ask if he is a journalist.

“No,” he says. “I am an architect working in Washington, D.C. but I have a house in Coconut Grove (a Miami neighborhood) and I need to get there!”

I agree to let the architect ride with me.

We all file off the plane. In front of me is a woman, trying to make a 2 a.m. connection in Miami to fly to Lima, Peru. She is going on a cruise through the Amazon. There is no way she will get there – so her dream vacation is crushed by Irma.

11:08 p.m. – American Airlines tells the passengers that they are trying to get a bus driver to ferry all the people to Miami.

I ask the airline supervisor if my bags can be pulled off the plane so I can get a rental car.

They say I can and that I can pick up my bags at carousel B-4.

Another man hears I am getting my bags, and a rental and he asks if he can also share the ride.

“Sure… Just $500,” I joke. His eyes flash wide-open, and I assure him he can have a ride without cost.

11:50 p.m. – I have my Chevrolet SUV, but am still waiting for my bags.

My two travel companions are “Oz” – a native of Colombia, who was just transferred to Reston, Virginia and Enrico, an architect from Genoa, Italy now living in Coconut Grove.

12:01 a.m. – We begin heading south. Oz is an IT specialist and within minutes he has opened an app on his phone to look for gas stations that are open along the way.

1:48 a.m. – I call my colleague Mike Miller, a photographer from Houston, Texas, that I am meeting. Mike and I are old friends, and worked together covering hurricanes in a previous job.

Click on image to enlarge:

Mike is safely in Miami and advises me to keep the SUV so we can use the car during our Irma coverage.

“By the way,” he says, and then begins to tell me that I was diverted from Miami airport because there was a shooting there. How much more bizarre can this trip get?

2:13 a.m. – We pull over and fill the car, fearful we won’t find an open gas station near Miami. They have water. Lots of it. So I buy 20 liters or so.

3:37 a.m. – Oz tells me his wife is in their family car, waiting at an exit just north of Miami airport. I pull over, quick introductions ensue, and Oz jumps in his loaded-down vehicle to drive his family north, out of Irma’s path.

Enrico and I continue on toward my hotel near the airport. He is going to get an Uber to make the 10-minute drive to his home.

4:43 a.m. – I check in to the hotel and the pleasant gentleman at the front desk says, “We have you for one night.”

“No, that isn’t right,” I say. “We need to stay here for five or six days!”

“Sorry, we are sold-out, so you need to check out in the morning,” he says.

As I worried about what to do my travel companion Enrico – who was still there waiting for his Uber — approaches.

“You did a favor for me, I have a four bedroom house and you and your colleague are welcome to stay,” he says.

Karma – Kindness – Kindred spirit.

We exchange numbers I head to my hotel room for tonight.

4:57 a.m. – I sent a quick note to colleagues in D.C. saying I have a room for a night but that we have other options once Irma bears down on us.

5:27 a.m. – I look at the clock one last time before trying to sleep. I think about the live shots I’ll have to do in a little while. To be honest, I have no idea how much damage Irma will do, or where we will ride out the storm.