Hurricane Ian hit Florida toward the end of September, leaving destruction and tragedy in its wake. Hundreds of lives were lost between Cuba and the southeastern United States, and damages upward of $50 billion were sustained. Throughout it all, a St. Cloud State University alumnus was on the ground to bear witness.
Reporter Gordon Severson ’10 arrived in Tampa two days before Hurricane Ian hit Florida. By the time it made landfall on Sept. 28, Severson was in Sarasota, which was considered one of the harder-hit communities. The morning after, he and a colleague made their way south to communities such as Venice and Fort Myers, which suffered even more devastation.
“Hurricane Ian was my first hurricane,” Severson said. “I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
The Mass Communications graduate, who primarily works for KARE 11 out of Minneapolis, said he volunteered to go to Florida after KARE 11’s owner, TEGNA, put out the request for journalists to help with coverage of the hurricane. When Severson arrived in Florida, his colleagues at KARE 11’s sister station, WTSP, set him up with a “hurricane kit” that had all the necessities and safety equipment he would need. Most work days lasted at least 14 hours, and Severson said he was pulling “double duty” by helping with WSTP’s 24-hour live hurricane coverage and also recording content for KARE 11, all while appearing live in newscasts several times a day.
The experience came with challenges, as Severson said flooding, power outages and internet access were constant concerns. It wasn’t uncommon to have to drive 50 to 60 miles to find an internet signal in order to send video back to the television stations, and Severson said he stayed in hotel rooms with no power or water. Food and gasoline were hard to come by in some of the affected areas as well.
“We were constantly rationing our gas and supplies in order to make it to the next story,” Severson said.
“The story is just beginning down there. These communities have a long road to recovery.”
Flooding from the hurricane was also a serious concern. Severson recalled one instance where the team was driving on an interstate that ended up under water, resulting in having to take a GPS-led detour. The detour took them to a two-lane road without shoulders, and they were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic when the vehicles ended up in two feet of water.
“We saw countless cars under water and in the ditch that had been swept away. My colleague and I were constantly wondering if we would be next,” Severson said. “We knew that if our car would be swept away, it would be days before an emergency crew would be able to get us out.”
While it took them two hours to drive five miles, eventually Severson and his colleague made it through the area without being stranded. They would later find out the road they had been traveling was shut down shortly after they made it through the area.
Though the experience of covering the hurricane was harrowing, Severson said he was able to see how capable he is in times of crisis. He credits his professional experiences and his education at St. Cloud State with giving him the tools to succeed on the job.
“At SCSU I was able to work as a reporter and journalist long before I professionally entered the career field,” he said. “I can honestly say that every step of my career I was always one step ahead of my peers, because I had already learned so many important lessons and had already received so much valuable experience from SCSU. Going to SCSU definitely put me on the fast track for my career, and it’s a big reason why I’m here at KARE 11.”
The Sauk Rapids native was heavily involved with UTVS and with the Film Studies department during his time at St. Cloud State. While double-majoring in Broadcast Journalism and Film Studies, he worked for Husky Productions, worked on Sport Soup as well as short films, wrote for the University Chronicle, and was a teaching assistant for the Mass Communications and Film Studies departments. He also interned with KSAX in Alexandria and KARE 11 while attending the University.
After graduating from St. Cloud State, Severson was a reporter for KAAL-TV in Rochester and then ABC station WKOW out of Madison, Wisconsin, before returning to Minnesota to join KARE 11. Some of his work has appeared on NBC’s national shows as well as “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show.”
Severson said it was an honor to get the call to cover Hurricane Ian from Florida, and said it was fulfilling to help those affected share their stories with the rest of the country. It was an experience he’ll never forget.
“There is healing in sharing your story. So many of these people thanked us for their time and for allowing them the space to share their grief, concern and frustration,” he said. “In times of heartache and sadness, our stories bring us together and bind us. It was an honor to give that to people down there.”