Storm paths imperfect for news crews

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NEW YORK -- Natural disasters present and future are punctuating a late summer week, with the networks rushing to cover the deadly earthquake in Peru and tropical rains in Texas while keeping an eye on the progress of Hurricane Dean.

Crews and correspondents have been dispatched overnight to Lima, Peru, where a magnitude-8 earthquake struck cities and towns south of the city and killed at least 400 people, possibly many more. ABC's David Muir flew to Peru soon after word came Wednesday night about the earthquake; Fox News Channel had Steve Harrigan reporting from the scene on Thursday.

Harrigan called the situation "extremely dire" in the small towns and villages south of the capital. Each of the networks were also covering the remains of Tropical Storm Erin, which were causing major flooding in and around San Antonio after making landfall late Wednesday.

But even as that was going on, networks and news channels were moving crews to locations in the way of Hurricane Dean. As it churned its way through the Caribbean and strengthened into what may soon become sustained winds of 140 mph -- a major hurricane by all accounts -- the current track saw it headed for Jamaica, Cancun and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and then perhaps mainland Mexico or the Gulf Coast of the U.S. But because no one knew where it would for sure end up, it forced a lot of educated guesswork in newsrooms.

"This is the predicament we face every time we have a hurricane," said Nancy Lane, senior vp editorial for CNN/U.S.

ABC News was planning to send to Jamaica weather anchor/reporter Sam Champion as early as todayfri, where he would report for "Good Morning America" and other platforms. "GMA" executive producer Jim Murphy was keeping a close eye on the hurricane. Champion, who was on vacation this week, has reported on weather stories that have taken him to more than 100 locations around the world.

"Sam is one of the most active and serious weather reporters on American television right now, and he travels everywhere to get the story," Murphy said. CNN was planning to send correspondents throughout the region.

"We keep moving and inching our folks around as we see the hurricanes move their paths," Lane said.

Meanwhile, Atlanta-based the Weather Channel was already geared up for hurricane coverage but planning to send more of its crews out to cover what will happen next. Meteorologist Jim Cantore had been sent to Hawaii this week to cover the approach of Hurricane Flossie, where he ran into challenges meeting up with the TV crew.

"It wasn't easy getting to Hilo, let me tell you, because they closed the airport," said Terry Connelly, senior vp programming at the Weather Channel. "The trick of logistics in this business is trying to get there before the airport closes." He eventually managed to get a small plane into the airport.

Meanwhile, meteorologist Jeff Morrow and his crew were in Texas covering that storm, with meteorologist Mike Seidel joining him Thursday, after which Seidel will leave for Jamaica with his crew and arrive ahead of the storm to begin broadcasting regular reports. Cantore, who left Hawaii on Thursday, is going to Cancun, where he'll report on the weekend.

"It's too early to tell (where Dean will make land). It could be anywhere from Mexico to Texas to Louisiana," Connelly said. "We've got other crews on standby to go wherever Dean goes. Dean ... is pretty powerful, and the track is uncertain after it hits or goes near the Yucatan Peninsula."

The suddenly active hurricane season comes after nearly two years of quiet in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 2,000 people and devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The Weather Channel, CNBC, CNN and other networks are planning extensive anniversary coverage of Katrina; the Weather Channel next week will mark the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged south Florida in 1992.
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