(From TODAY producer Jackie Olensky)
Production manager Erin Reynolds and I flew down to meet Al Roker in Miami on August 19. Al had been flying with the Hurricane Hunters in St. Croix. We did the show from the hurricane center Monday morning.
Al, Erin and I flew from Miami to Cancun. Al and I had covered four hurricanes before but never on foreign territory. When we landed in Cancun, we drove five hours to Chetumal. They were evacuating so we had to go through two police checkpoints and none of us spoke Spanish, so we called Danny Noa on the foreign desk and put him on the phone with the police. Thankfully, he talked us through. The federales said we were entering at our risk...good times!When we got to Chetumal we met up with some other NBC folks. We were being put up at a Holiday Inn in town since it offered more protection then our original hotel which looked like it was barely standing pre-hurricane.
We ate dinner and went to sleep. At about 2 a.m., Erin and I (we were sharing a room since there weren't enough rooms for everyone) woke up from the whirling sounds of the wind and rain -- and the pressure of the eye passing over made our ears clogged. The windows were rattling so fiercely, I said to her that we should leave since I was afraid they would blow in.
He retreated back to his room and then a few minutes later we heard an explosion. We ran into the hall in our pajamas...his window had blown in. The three of us sat in the hallway for three hours to stay away from windows.
We had to go out when the eye was still passing over to do the show. The area around the hotel was devastated. We actually had to climb over what looked like the biggest tree we had ever seen to get to the live shot area.