Papers in Hurricane Rita’s Path Flee or Hunker Down

By: The Associated Press

(AP) Gulf Coast newspapers in the projected path of Hurricane Rita scrambled Thursday to finalize plans to keep employees safe and readers informed, mainly through Web sites.

The Galveston County Daily News evacuated its barrier island offices in Galveston and Texas City but hoped to continue printing after landfall, Publisher Dolph Tillotson said in a recording left at the offices.

“For the duration of the storm we plan to continue publishing a paper each day,” he said. “However, it will be small. Our ability to deliver it is very limited.”

Tillotson, like other publishers in Rita’s path, said readers should go to the newspaper’s Web site for the latest news.

“After the storm, we will deliver bundles of papers from throughout the storm period,” he said.

The Port Arthur News, north by Louisiana, will not publish Friday and will update its Web site, Editor Roger Cowles said. The paper could resume printing Sunday. “I’m turning off the lights to go take care of personal effects,” Cowles said.

Just inland and north at The Orange Leader, Publisher Eric Bauer said he was the last person on site Thursday, and would follow The Port Arthur News’ lead because both are owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

Wanda Garner Cash, editor and publisher of The Baytown Sun on the edge of Galveston Bay, said her staff was publishing a Thursday noon edition and would move to safer ground. She was monitoring the storm’s path to determine where to go. She also was debating whether she would remain in place and send her staffers elsewhere. “I might stay here,” she said.

The Houston Chronicle planned to operate from its central plant in downtown Houston, said Susan Bischoff, associate editor. In case that becomes impossible, the editorial and production operations can be moved to its southwest Houston plant near Interstate 610 and U.S. 59. Also, a team is on its way to the San Antonio Express-News, its sister Hearst Corp. paper, to publish there if necessary, she said.

“Our online product is going to lead in breaking our journalism,” she said.

The Beaumont Enterprise also planned to operate and publish as usual. Those plans might change, however, since forecasters shifted the anticipated landfall of the hurricane closer to Beaumont, said Ron Franscell, managing editor for features, sports and presentation.

“So we’re weighing whether to hunker down here and maintain at least a Web presence,” he said. Also, “we made plans in advance to evacuate the news staff and operations to the Lake Charles American Press [in Louisiana] if we need to,” he said.

Whatever happens, he said, “it’s likely there will be somebody here, two people or three — a skeletal staff to serve as a witness,” he said.

The Victoria Advocate, about 115 miles south of Houston, reported on its Web site in a note to employees that it planned to publish Thursday’s paper on Wednesday night and deliver it in the morning.

It will not publish a paper Friday or Saturday but will update its Web site.

“The San Antonio Express-News has agreed to add pages to their paper on Friday and Saturday for us to publish Victoria information,” the paper’s Web site said. “We will resume publication as soon as the evacuation order is lifted.”

Signed by General Manager Barry Peckham, the note advised its employees to seek shelter and be safe.

“Our prayers are with you and your families,” it said.


On the Net:

Houston Chronicle:

Galveston County Daily News:

The Baytown Sun:

The Beaumont Enterprise:

The Orange Leader:

Port Arthur News:

The Victoria Advocate:

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