LAKE CHARLES, La. (WAFB) - One of the worst-case scenarios for a television station played out early Thursday morning (Aug. 27) as the strong winds of Hurricane Laura moved into southwest Louisiana.
The transmission tower of KPLC was snapped in half during the fierce storm, sending the top portion of the tower tumbling down into the station’s broadcast studio below.
Photographs show a large amount of debris inside the station’s studio, where staff members would have been working had they not evacuated prior to the storm making landfall.
The damaged tower transmits the station’s signal to its larger main tower located about 25 miles away. Crews have been unable to reach the larger tower to inspect it because roads leading to it are covered with large trees.
The catastrophe, which knocked the historic television station off the air early Thursday morning, happened less than 12 hours after the station’s staff evacuated the building amid growing safety concerns.
Despite the evacuation and tower collapse, the station never stopped delivering news to its viewers.
Early Thursday evening, KPLC’s news team entered its 30th hour of continuous wall-to-wall coverage of the powerful Category 4 hurricane and its aftermath.
KPLC General Manager John Ware said Thursday it could be up to a year before the station is fully restored, but he pledged the station would continue to deliver regular newscasts to its viewers as they rebuild the facility.
”We will be phasing things as we get estimates on how to address the tower and make our building safe,” Ware said.
“I am so incredibly proud of the team,” Ware said from Lake Charles Thursday. “KPLC always pulls together, but the work that they did while scrambling to evacuate the building, go to our sister stations, learn new technologies, and provide nonstop wall-to-wall information for hours upon hours to keep our community informed and safe was spectacular.”
KPLC is owned by Atlanta-based Gray Television.
While some staff members remained in Lake Charles, the majority relocated to nearby Gray stations in Alexandria, La. (KALB) and Baton Rouge (WAFB).
Earlier in 2020, Gray TV Chairman Hilton Howell approved the purchase of digital broadcast studios to be installed in the newsrooms of all its stations across nearly 100 television markets in the country. The newly-installed digital studio at WAFB is what the KPLC team is using to continue its reporting remotely.
A team from Gray Television arrived in Lake Charles late Thursday to assist with damage assessments.
“For 65 years, southwest Louisiana has depended on KPLC for critical information and we have always taken that responsibility seriously as we always will,” Ware said from Lake Charles Thursday. “Even though we can’t currently broadcast to your television set, we are still providing that information to all of your digital devices.”
Like so many in the Lake Charles community, some staff members of the station are now learning of damage Hurricane Laura caused to their homes.
The home of KPLC meteorologist, Ben Terry, is considered to be a “total loss” after the roof was ripped off.
Longtime KPLC reporter, Theresa Schmidt, told a chilling story of the damage to her home, located just a few miles from the station. After her husband, veteran newspaper reporter, Hector San Miguel, passed away in 2009, she had a stained glass window of Our Lady of Guadalupe installed in the front of her home in his memory. The storm blew out nearly every window in her home, however, the stained glassed window was unscathed.
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