Monster Storm Batters Tabs!

The New Orleans Times Picayune won praise by battling crippling conditions to cover the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. But the challenge and glory of meeting deadline under assault from a hurricane is not just for respectable broadsheets: Last week, Hurricane Wilma slammed into the home of American Media in Boca Raton, home of The Weekly World News, the Sun, the Globe and the National Examiner.

AMI’s offices took the storm head on. David Perel, an AMI executive vice president who oversees owner David Pecker’s Boca publications, said the roof and back porch were ripped off his house by the Category Three storm. Perel and his family took refuge with neighbors, and by the second day of the storm, he was back at AMI’s offices directing the response and talking to Pecker by cell phone. Perel said by that morning all 300 AMI staffers had been accounted for.

“Following the hurricane, the most important thing was making sure all our Boca employees were safe,” Pecker said in an e-mail statement.

Wilma hit early in the morning on Monday, Oct. 24. By Tuesday, AMI’s backup generator failed and Perel transfered computers to an auxiliary office in Del Ray so his staffers could continue to edit and report under electric power. By Wednesday, the Boca office’s generators came back online and The National Examiner was able to close at 2:00 pm, beating deadline by two hours. The Weekly World News (aliens settle down in San Francisco), the Sun (dog finds way home after two years) and the Globe (proposed biography of Prince William tells sex secrets) all closed on time by October 28.

“It was a Herculean effort in a very tough time and I am very thankful for it,” Pecker said by e-mail.

While AMI’s office ran on backup power, gas and supplies were in short order. AMI’s human resources vice president Daniel Rotstein procured gasoline in five gallon jugs to refuel staffers’ cars. Staffers subsisted on pretzels, peanuts and canned tuna, Perel said.

“You’re talking about a refugee situation here basically,” Perel said. “Palm Beach county is a wreck.”

But a semblance of civilization soon returned. By Wednesday, platters of roast beef, turkey and ham sandwiches were brought in. Mr. Perel added that even though many employees suffered damage to their homes, 99 percent of AMI’s staffers didn’t miss a day of work.

–Gabriel Sherman