Nova (1974–…): Season 16, Episode 16 - Hurricane! - full transcript

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TONIGHT, ON NOVA...

HURRICANE ANDREW, AS
SEEN FROM A HOTEL ROOM

IN HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA.

IT CAUSED UNPRECEDENTED
DEVASTATION.

BUT THE WORST STORM EVER
RECORDED IN THE ATLANTIC

WAS HURRICANE GILBERT.

THE HURRICANE
CENTER CANNOT BELIEVE

WE ARE GETTING SUCH A
STRONG PRESSURE IN THE EYE

BUT WE BELIEVE IT.

JOURNEY INTO THE
EYE OF THE STORM

AS SCIENTISTS TRY TO
BETTER UNDERSTAND



THE KILLING POWER
OF THE HURRICANE.

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Narrator: WITH HURRICANE
ANDREW BEARING DOWN



MOST PEOPLE ARE LEAVING SOUTH
FLORIDA AS FAST AS THEY CAN.

BUT EMMETT WILLIAMS, HURRICANE
HUNTER AND AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER

IS RUSHING TO GET
AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE

TO RECORD ONE OF THE
MOST DEVASTATING STORMS

EVER TO HIT THE
CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.

Williams: NOTHING WAS SAFE
IN HOMESTEAD THAT NIGHT.

Narrator: HE AND A COMPANION
WEATHER THE STORM IN A HOTEL

CHOSEN FOR ITS
CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION.

Williams: ALL WE COULD
SEE WAS THE FLASHES

FROM THE FUSES BLOWING
ON THE TRANSFORMER POLES.

Woman: THIS IS SERIOUS!

Narrator: THE STORM
RAGES FOR FIVE HOURS

WITH WINDS GUSTING
OVER 175 MILES PER HOUR.

Man: EVEN THOUGH I HAD BEEN
THROUGH MANY HURRICANES IN THE PAST

I WAS BECOMING QUITE CONCERNED.

Narrator: THEY ARE FORCED
FINALLY INTO THE BATHROOM.

IT'S THE ONLY ROOM WE
HAVE LEFT IN OUR ROOM.

THE REST OF OUR
ROOM IS NOW GONE.

Narrator: EVEN HERE, THE
STORM'S FURY IS EVIDENT.

THE PRESSURE IS SO GREAT

THAT THE TOILET HAS BEEN
SUCKED ABSOLUTELY DRY.

DROP A PIECE OF TOILET
PAPER IN THERE AGAIN.

WATCH WHAT HAPPENS
TO THIS TOILET PAPER.

IT GETS SUCKED DOWN.

WOW.

Narrator: TWO HOURS LATER
THEY VENTURE OUTSIDE

AND BEGIN TO WITNESS THE DAMAGE
WROUGHT BY HURRICANE ANDREW.

THERE ARE BILLIONS OF
DOLLARS OF PROPERTY DAMAGE

BUT RELATIVELY
LITTLE LOSS OF LIFE.

THIS WAS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE
WITH HURRICANES OF THE PAST.

20 YEARS LATER

I STILL ASK THE SAME QUESTION,
WHY... WHY DIDN'T WE DIE?

WHY DID WE LIVE?

AND THE ONLY THING I CAN SAY

IS THAT THE GOOD LORD
UP ABOVE WANTED US TO LIVE

SO THAT WE COULD TELL PEOPLE.

IF ANYTHING CAN BE SAID ABOUT A
STORM OR ABOUT A HURRICANE IS

WHEN A HURRICANE COMES, WHEN
A STORM COMES, GET THE HELL OUT.

Narrator: AUGUST 1969,
HURRICANE CAMILLE.

FEW SURVIVORS WILL EVER
FORGET THE DEADLY TERROR

THIS STORM UNLEASHED
ON THE MISSISSIPPI COAST.

WE WERE INSIDE THE HOUSE.

WE HAD TO SWIM TO THE WINDOWS
ACROSS THE FRONT OF THE HOUSE

WHICH HAD ALREADY BLOWN OUT

FROM THE PRESSURE AND
THE WIND AND EVERYTHING.

WE CLIMBED UP ALONGSIDE
THE CHIMNEY ONTO THE ROOF

AND FLOATED IN THE BACKYARD.

WELL, THAT'S WHERE WE STAYED
FOR THE REST OF THE NIGHT

GETTING PELTED BY PARTS
OF OTHER HOUSES, TREE LIMBS

AND JUST GETTING BEATEN BY
THE RAIN THAT WAS SO HEAVY.

Narrator: THE MISSISSIPPI
COAST LAY IN RUINS

WRECKED BY A 25-FOOT DOME OF
SEA WATER... THE STORM SURGE.

BUT CAMILLE WASN'T THE WORST.

GALVESTON, TEXAS, THE YEAR 1900:

A HURRICANE FLATTENED
THE CITY, KILLING 6,000.

IT WAS THE MOST
DEVASTATING NATURAL DISASTER

IN UNITED STATES HISTORY.

ACROSS THE WORLD, IN
1970 A MASSIVE STORM SWEPT

INTO THE BAY OF BENGAL,
DROWNING 500,000 PEOPLE.

IT WAS ONE OF THE WORST
NATURAL DISASTERS ANYWHERE.

BUT SEEN FROM
SPACE, THESE STORMS...

CALLED HURRICANES
IN THE ATLANTIC

AND TYPHOONS OR
TROPICAL CYCLONES IN ASIA...

APPEAR DECEPTIVELY SERENE.

MADE UP OF CLOUDS AND RAIN
CIRCLING A CLEAR CENTER, THE EYE

THE HURRICANE IS A GIGANTIC
SPIRAL UP TO 1,000 MILES WIDE.

SUMMER IS HURRICANE
SEASON, PEAKING IN SEPTEMBER.

IT'S LABOR DAY WEEKEND, 1988.

THOUSANDS CROWD
BEACHES AND RESORTS

ALONG THE GULF OF MEXICO.

BUT A POTENTIALLY DEADLY
THREAT IS MOVING TOWARD THEM.

STILL FAR OUT AT SEA IS A STORM

THAT WILL BECOME KNOWN
AS HURRICANE GILBERT.

WHERE WILL GILBERT GO?

HOW BAD WILL IT BE?

ANY KIND OF MALFUNCTION
PRIOR TO ROTATE

CALL REJECT AND I'LL ABORT IT.

ANYTHING AFTER ROTATE

I'LL FLY THE PLANE
STRAIGHT AHEAD.

Controller: Clear for take-off.

Narrator: EVEN NOW AN AIRPLANE
IS ABOUT TO LEAVE MIAMI

FOR A RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHT
INTO THE EYE OF THE STORM.

FLOWN BY THE NATIONAL OCEANIC
AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION...

"NOAA"... THIS SPECIALLY
EQUIPPED AIRCRAFT IS DESIGNED

TO HELP SCIENTISTS
UNDERSTAND HURRICANES

AND BETTER PREDICT
THEIR OFTEN ERRATIC PATH.

RESEARCHERS WILL MONITOR
AN ARRAY OF ADVANCED RADAR

AND SOPHISTICATED SENSORS.

THEY'LL CRISSCROSS THE
STORM, READING ITS VITAL SIGNS

AND RELAYING THEM BACK TO
FORECASTERS ON THE GROUND.

THE SURFACE WINDS ARE 70 KNOTS.

AT FLIGHT LEVEL, WE'RE ONLY 60

SO WE'RE ABOVE
MOST OF THE STORM.

LET'S SEE WHAT THE
SMURF HAS TO SAY.

Narrator: FORECASTING
DEPENDS ON UNDERSTANDING

AND LEAD SCIENTIST
HUGH WILLOUGHBY

USES THESE SAME MEASUREMENTS

IN HIS EFFORT TO FIGURE OUT
THE DYNAMICS OF THE STORM

AND ITS ENVIRONMENT.

CAN'T SEE ANYTHING RIGHT NOW.

Willoughby: THE BIGGEST MYSTERY IS,
HOW DOES THE HURRICANE INTERACT

WITH THE SURROUNDINGS
IN THE ATMOSPHERE?

THAT CONTROLS THE MOTION.

IN A BIG WAY, IT
CONTROLS THE INTENSITY.

I THINK THAT THAT'S
A SOLVABLE PROBLEM.

Narrator: SO FAR, HURRICANES HAVE
PROVEN NOTORIOUSLY UNPREDICTABLE.

THE BEGINNING OF THE
HURRICANE CONDITIONS

WILL START THERE
ANYTIME AFTER DARK.

Narrator: AND NO ONE
KNOWS THAT BETTER

THAN FORECASTERS AT THE
NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER IN MIAMI.

INFORMATION ABOUT HURRICANE
GILBERT IS NOW POURING IN

FROM ADVANCED WEATHER SATELLITES

REMOTE WEATHER STATIONS
AND RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT.

SEE IF YOU CAN GET
AHOLD OF MEXICO.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT 36 HOURS...

Narrator: IT'S UP TO SCIENTISTS LIKE
THE CENTER'S DIRECTOR, BOB SHEETS

USING THEIR KNOWLEDGE
OF HURRICANES

AND A VARIETY OF COMPUTER MODELS

TO FORECAST WHAT THE STORM
WILL DO AND WHO WILL BE AFFECTED.

SAY IT COULD BE THERE
WITHIN 12 TO 36 HOURS.

THEY SAID, AT LEAST AT 6:00

THEY DON'T WANT TO
SCARE THESE PEOPLE.

YEAH, RIGHT, GREAT,
YOU'VE GOT 30 SECONDS.

Narrator: SHEETS FINDS
HIMSELF IN A ROLE

MOST SCIENTISTS
NEVER EXPERIENCE.

HE'LL HAVE TO COMMUNICATE
HIS FINDINGS ALMOST IMMEDIATELY

TO AN ANXIOUS PUBLIC.

DURING THE TROPICAL STORM PHASE

YOU GET HEAVY RAINS
AND GUSTY WINDS.

IT COULD INTENSIFY FURTHER?

THAT'S RIGHT.

IT'S DEVELOPED ITS
OWN ENVIRONMENT

SO IT JUST FEEDS ON ITSELF.

Narrator: AS THE HURRICANE
NEARS LAND, THE STAKES RISE.

WHEN YOU'RE DEALING WITH
THE HURRICANE PROBLEM

THERE ARE MORE THINGS INVOLVED
THAN FORECASTING, PER SE.

LET'S SAY WE PUT OUT A FORECAST

AND FORECAST A HURRICANE
ON THE COAST IN 48 HOURS.

WE ARE CREATING A
MECHANISM THAT STARTS TURNING

THAT'S A MULTIMILLION-
DOLLAR PROBLEM.

WE CAN'T JUST FORECAST EXACTLY
WHAT WE FEEL IS GOING TO HAPPEN.

Narrator: 24 HOURS BEFORE
PREDICTED LANDFALL

THE HURRICANE CENTER
ISSUES A WARNING.

WE'RE VIOLATING A RULE

OF STRICTLY
INTERPRETING THE MANUAL.

I THINK IT WOULD BE BETTER TO
JUST FORECAST THE PARAMETERS.

Narrator: LOCAL OFFICIALS WILL
USUALLY CALL FOR AN EVACUATION

ADVISING RESIDENTS TO
BOARD UP THEIR HOMES

AND BUSINESSES TO CLOSE DOWN.

THE COST... $50 MILLION FOR
EVERY 300 MILES OF COASTLINE.

WE'VE SEEN
HURRICANE CAMILLE, 1969

AND HURRICANE ALLEN IN 1980
THAT WERE SIMILAR TO THIS ONE.

Narrator: DESPITE THE ECONOMIC
TRADEOFFS AND FALSE ALARMS

THE HURRICANE CENTER'S
EFFORT TO COORDINATE

HURRICANE PREDICTION AND
PREPAREDNESS HAS PAID OFF.

THE NUMBER OF HURRICANE
DEATHS IS STEADILY DECLINING.

THE FIRST HURRICANE WARNING
SYSTEM WAS SET UP IN 1898...

A FLEET OF SHIPS STATIONED
OFF THE AMERICAN COAST.

BUT FOR DECADES,
METEOROLOGISTS HAD NO WAY

TO TRACK STORMS FAR OUT AT SEA.

DURING WORLD WAR II

AMERICAN SHIPS IN THE PACIFIC
WERE BATTERED BY TYPHOONS.

1944 SAW THE BEGINNING
OF A WHOLE NEW ERA

IN HURRICANE TRACKING.

USING A POWERFUL NEW TOOL, RADAR

MILITARY CREWS BEGAN
FLYING INTO HURRICANES

TO DETERMINE THEIR
STRENGTH AND DIRECTION.

WHILE BETTER TRACKING
COULD SAVE LIVES

IT COULD NOT PROTECT
VULNERABLE COASTLINES

FROM SPIRALING PROPERTY DAMAGE.

IN THE EARLY 1960s, SCIENTISTS
BELIEVED THEY HAD AN ANSWER.

Announcer: IF ONLY THE FORCE
OF THE HURRICANE'S WINDS

COULD BE REDUCED

THE TOLL IN DEATH AND DAMAGE
COULD BE GREATLY LESSENED.

IS THERE A WAY?

Narrator: THE WAY WAS
"PROJECT STORMFURY..."

AN ACTIVE ASSAULT
ON THE HURRICANE.

A FLEET OF PLANES
WOULD DROP SILVER IODIDE

INTO HURRICANE CLOUDS.

ICE CRYSTALS WOULD FORM

DISRUPTING THE STORM'S
DELICATE HEAT BALANCE

AND SAPPING ITS STRENGTH.

BUT AFTER 20 YEARS

STORMFURY NEVER PRODUCED
CONCLUSIVE RESULTS.

THE PROJECT WAS DOOMED
BY HEAVY RESTRICTIONS

ON SEEDING HURRICANES
TOO CLOSE TO LAND

AND BY DOUBTS ABOUT ITS
SCIENTIFIC ASSUMPTIONS.

TODAY SCIENTISTS HAVE TURNED
AGAIN TO TRACKING HURRICANES

AND IMPROVING THE
ACCURACY OF THEIR FORECASTS.

ADVANCED SATELLITES
MONITOR THE ENTIRE LIFE CYCLE

OF A HURRICANE

BUT THEY STILL LACK
DETAILED INFORMATION

ABOUT THE VAST
TROPICAL ENVIRONMENT

IN WHICH THE HURRICANE FORMS.

MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT
WHEN WE LAUNCH SATELLITES

WE SOLVE THE PROBLEM

OF UNDERSTANDING THE
STATE OF THE ATMOSPHERE.

BUT UNFORTUNATELY A SATELLITE

IS FOR THE MOST PART
JUST A PRETTY PICTURE.

SOMETIMES THEY'RE
VERY PRETTY PICTURES.

THEY TELL US THERE'S
A HURRICANE THERE.

WHAT THEY DON'T TELL US, OR
THEY DON'T TELL US VERY WELL

OR WHAT WE REALLY NEED TO KNOW

ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
OF THE HURRICANE;

FOR EXAMPLE, THE FLOW OF AIR.

IT'S VERY, VERY DIFFICULT,
IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE

TO DEDUCE FROM A
SATELLITE PICTURE

OR A SEQUENCE OF
SATELLITE PICTURES EVEN

WHAT THE FLOW OF AIR IS,
AND WITHOUT KNOWING THAT

WE CAN'T POSSIBLY SAY WHERE
THE HURRICANE IS GOING TO GO.

THAT IS THE MAIN LIMITATION IN
FORECASTING HURRICANE TRACKS.

Narrator: MOST ATLANTIC
HURRICANES ARE PUSHED WEST

IN THE FLOW OF AIR SPIRALING
AROUND A HIGH-PRESSURE ZONE

JUST NORTH OF THE
TROPICS... THE BERMUDA HIGH.

BUT ONCE THEY HEAD NORTH

HURRICANES OFTEN FALL UNDER
THE INFLUENCE OF WEATHER SYSTEMS

OVER THE CONTINENTAL UNITED
STATES, BECOMING UNPREDICTABLE.

AUGUST 1985.

SPACE SHUTTLE ASTRONAUTS WATCHED

AS LIGHTNING FLASHED ALONG
THE EDGE OF HURRICANE ELENA.

ON THE GROUND ELENA WAS
GIVING FORECASTERS FITS

WITH ONE OF THE MOST
BIZARRE TRACKS IN MEMORY.

THE STORM HEADED
STRAIGHT FOR MISSISSIPPI

AND THE COAST WAS EVACUATED.

THEN ELENA SLOWED
DOWN, TURNED EAST

AND HOVERED FOR
DAYS JUST OFF FLORIDA.

AFTER THE CROWDS RETURNED
TO THE MISSISSIPPI COAST

ELENA SUDDENLY LOOPED BACK

AND THE BEACHES WERE EVACUATED
AGAIN JUST BEFORE IT HIT LAND.

A WEATHER SYSTEM CALLED
A TROUGH, SHOWN IN RED

HAD BLOCKED ELENA'S
PATH AND SENT IT EAST.

THEN A HIGH-PRESSURE ZONE
PUSHED IT BACK TO MISSISSIPPI

WHEN THE TROUGH MOVED BY.

A FEW WEEKS LATER, HURRICANE
GLORIA FORMED IN THE ATLANTIC

AND TURNED NORTH.

ITS FINAL TARGET COULD HAVE BEEN

ANYWHERE BETWEEN
FLORIDA AND MAINE.

IT GRAZED THE COASTLINE,
EVENTUALLY HITTING NEW ENGLAND.

OKAY, THE HURRICANE IS
NOT LIKE A BLOCK OF WOOD

FLOATING IN THE FLUID
THAT THE ENVIRONMENT IS.

IT'S MORE LIKE A WATER
BALLOON OR LIKE A WAD OF JELL-O

FLOATING IN THE RIVER OF WIND,

IF YOU WANT TO
LOOK AT IT THAT WAY.

IF YOU PUSH IT IN ONE DIRECTION,
IT'S NOT NECESSARILY GOING TO GO

LIKE IF YOU PUSH
A PIECE OF WOOD.

IF YOU PUSH IT IN A CERTAIN
DIRECTION, IT MAY SPREAD OUT

OR DECIDE TO WIGGLE OFF
TO SOME OTHER DIRECTION.

SO IT'S THE INTERACTION
OF THE ENVIRONMENT AGAIN.

IT'S TWO FLUIDS.

IT'S NOT A SOLID ENTITY
EMBEDDED IN A FLUID.

IT'S TWO FLUIDS
INTERACTING TOGETHER.

THIS INTERACTION IS VERY SUBTLE

AND THE WHOLE CONCEPT
OF THIS INTERACTION

REQUIRES SOME OF OUR MOST
SOPHISTICATED COMPUTER MODELS

JUST TO UNDERSTAND.

WE ARE IMPROVING FORECAST TODAY.

IT'S BEEN A VERY SLOW PROCESS.

IT'S BEEN ABOUT A HALF OF A
PERCENT IMPROVEMENT EVERY YEAR

IN A 24-HOUR FORECAST.

I FULLY EXPECT THAT WE'RE
GOING TO INCREASE THAT...

AT LEAST DOUBLE THAT... AT
LEAST ONE PERCENT PER YEAR

OVER THE NEXT FIVE TO TEN YEARS.

AND UNFORTUNATELY, THOUGH, OUR
POPULATIONS ARE GROWING FASTER

THAN OUR ABILITY TO
IMPROVE OUR FORECASTS.

ALONG OUR COASTLINES OUR
POPULATIONS ARE GROWING FASTER

WHICH MEANS WE HAVE TO PROVIDE
LONGER LEAD-TIME FORECAST

AND THAT OFFSETS
WHAT WE'RE DOING

IN TERMS OF THE
IMPROVEMENT OF FORECAST.

Man: ALTHOUGH THE PROBABILITY

OF A WORST-CASE EVENT IN
ONE LOCATION IS VERY SMALL

IT'S ALMOST INEVITABLE
ONE DAY SOMEPLACE

WHERE A STORM INCREASES
INTENSITY UNEXPECTEDLY

AND WE HAVEN'T EVACUATED
A LARGE ENOUGH AREA

OR A STORM CHANGES TRACK
OR INCREASES ITS FORWARD SPEED

AND WE DIDN'T BEGIN
TO LEAVE EARLY ENOUGH.

IN THAT SCENARIO YOU COULD
HAVE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DIE

IN ANY NUMBER OF PLACES
AROUND THE COASTLINE RIGHT NOW.

Narrator: WHEN TO STAY
AND WHEN TO LEAVE

IS THE CRITICAL
CHOICE IN ANY STORM.

THE MISSISSIPPI
COAST LOOKS PEACEFUL

BUT RESIDENTS HERE HAVE
OFTEN FACED THAT DECISION.

HURRICANE BOB OF
1985 WAS NOTHING MORE

THAN A NUISANCE STORM,
EXCEPT FOR THE MARINE INTEREST.

THEN IN 1965, HURRICANE BETSY
GAVE US ABOUT A TEN-FOOT TIDE.

OUR RECORD STORM UP
UNTIL '69 WAS THE 1947 STORM...

ABOUT A 14.8-FOOT TIDE.

THEN FINALLY, HURRICANE
CAMILLE, HERE AT GULFPORT HARBOR

WAS 20.1 FEET ABOVE NORMAL.

Narrator: SOON AFTER
ENTERING THE GULF OF MEXICO

CAMILLE BEGAN TO INTENSIFY.

ON AUGUST 17, 1969,
AT 10:30 IN THE MORNING

FORECASTERS PREDICTED
THAT HURRICANE CAMILLE

WOULD HIT MISSISSIPPI
THAT EVENING.

200,000 PEOPLE HAD ONLY
A FEW HOURS TO FLEE.

AT 4:00 THAT AFTERNOON I LEFT
THE E.O.C. FOR A FEW MINUTES

TO RUN DOWN TO
PASS CHRISTIAN ISLES

AND MAKE SURE THAT THAT
AREA HAD BEEN CLEARED OUT.

THERE WERE STILL THREE
FAMILIES DOWN THERE

BUT THEY WERE
PACKING UP TO LEAVE.

COMING BACK, I NOTICED ACTIVITY
AROUND THE RICHELIEU APARTMENTS

AND PULLED UP AND TALKED WITH
WHAT I THINK WAS THE MANAGER.

AND SHE SAID, "WE'RE
NOT GOING TO LEAVE.

"THOSE THAT HAVE LEFT
HAVE ALREADY GONE.

"SOME OF US ARE
GOING TO STAY HERE

AND HAVE A HURRICANE PARTY."

I SAID, "WELL, MY
GOODNESS, LADY,

"THIS IS A VERY DANGEROUS AREA.

"YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE.

PLEASE PACK UP AND LEAVE."

WE DID NOT HAVE THE AUTHORITY
FOR FORCIBLE EVACUATION THEN.

WE DO NOW.

SHE SAID, "OH, DON'T
WORRY ABOUT US.

IF THE WATER COMES UP, WE'LL
GO UP TO THE THIRD FLOOR."

I SAID, "WELL, LADY, WHAT
ARE YOU GOING TO DO

"IF THE BOTTOM FLOOR GOES?

THE THIRD FLOOR IS GOING
TO COME DOWN WITH IT."

AND THAT'S EXACTLY
WHAT HAPPENED.

WELL, I GOT OFF FROM
WORK EARLY AND CAME HOME

AND EVERYBODY WAS TALKING ABOUT
THERE WAS GOING TO BE A PARTY.

SO I WENT AND THEY STARTED
TALKING PEOPLE INTO STAYING

BECAUSE I'M FROM
FLORIDA... JACKSONVILLE...

AND WE USED TO HAVE
THESE HURRICANE PARTIES.

EVERYBODY WOULD GO
TO EACH OTHER'S HOUSE

AND DRINK AND PARTY AND
CARRY ON AND COOK OUT.

SO I WENT BY AND PICKED
UP A LOT OF FOOD AND BOOZE

AND I HAD SOME PILLS AND STUFF

SO I WENT AND TALKED
EVERYBODY INTO STAYING.

THERE WAS AROUND
30 OF US STAYING.

EVERYBODY KEPT COMING AROUND

KNOCKING ON THE DOORS,
TELLING US TO LEAVE.

AND THE MANAGER AND
HIS WIFE SAID THEY HAD BEEN

IN A HURRICANE PARTY...
I THINK IT WAS BETSY...

AND THAT HE'D JUST GOTTEN
AS FAR AS THE FIRST FLOOR...

ABOUT EIGHT FEET HIGH.

AND THAT BUILDING WAS
ONE OF THE SAFEST BUILDINGS

BECAUSE IT WAS BUILT REAL GOOD.

WE WERE GOING TO HAVE THE
PARTY ON THE THIRD FLOOR.

I WAS ON THE SECOND FLOOR.

Narrator: THE EVACUATION
CONTINUED UP TO THE LAST MINUTE

BUT NO ONE HAD PREDICTED JUST
HOW STRONG CAMILLE WOULD BECOME.

WITH WINDS GUSTING
TO 200 MILES PER HOUR

THE SEA BEGAN TO SWALLOW
THE RICHELIEU APARTMENTS.

I SAYS, "FRITZ, IT'S FIXING
TO CAVE IN ANY MINUTE."

I SAYS, "WE'VE GOT TO GO."

WE RAN BACK AND BOTH OF US
STOOD WITH OUR BACKS TO THE DOOR

AND THAT WATER CAME THROUGH.

IT BUSTED OUT THE
WINDOW AND CAME THROUGH.

WE WERE ON THE SECOND FLOOR,
SO YOU KNOW HOW HIGH IT WAS.

THEN IT CAME AROUND TO THE BACK

AND BUSTED IN OUR
BEDROOM WINDOW.

AND THE BED STARTED
FLOATING ABOUT HALFWAY UP.

AND HE COULDN'T SWIM, SO
I BLEW UP AN AIR MATTRESS

LIKE WE HAD FOR THE POOL

AND I TOLD HIM TO
HANG ONTO THAT.

AND I SWAM OUT, AND
RIGHT AFTER I SWAM OUT

I GOT TANGLED UP IN
THE TELEPHONE LINES

BUT THE CURRENT WAS ALREADY
OFF, NATURALLY, BY THEN.

AND THEN I HEARD HIM.

IT WAS SO DARK OUT THERE.

I HEARD HIM HOLLERING,
"MARY ANN, MARY ANN, SAVE ME!"

IT HAD WASHED HIM OUT.

THEN I DIDN'T HEAR ANY MORE,
SO I GUESS HE HAD DROWNED.

AND SO ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT
WAS ON SHIPS WHEN THEY GO DOWN

YOU SEE ALL THE
SUCTION AND EVERYTHING

SO I KNEW THAT BUILDING
WAS FIXING TO GO DOWN

BECAUSE CRACKS HAD
COME ALL AROUND THE WALL.

SO I WENT... AND SO I GOT LOOSE
AND STARTED TRYING TO SWIM.

I COULD SEE THE LIGHTS UP AT
WHERE THE HURRICANE PARTY WAS

AND THE BUILDING JUST STARTED
ALL COMING DOWN IN THE WATER.

AND THE RIVER TOOK ME ON.

I MEAN, THE WATER TOOK ME ON.

THEY ESTIMATED

THAT THE SURGE TOOK ME
SOMETHING LIKE 12 MILES ALTOGETHER

IN AND COMING BACK OUT.

I JUST KEPT PRAYING THE
WHOLE TIME FOR GOD TO HELP ME

AND I KEPT SAYING THAT AND
THE 23rd PSALM IN THE BIBLE.

I KEPT RECITING THAT THE
WHOLE TIME I WAS IN THE WATER

AND JUST PRAYING FOR HIM

TO PLEASE GIVE ME
ANOTHER CHANCE AT LIFE.

Narrator: MARY ANN GERLACH WAS THE
LONE SURVIVOR OF THE HURRICANE PARTY.

THE OTHER 23 WHO STAYED BEHIND,
INCLUDING HER HUSBAND, FRITZ

WERE FOUND OVER THE NEXT
FEW DAYS AMONG THE WRECKAGE.

THE RICHELIEU APARTMENTS,
WHICH LOOKED LIKE THIS

WERE COMPLETELY FLATTENED
BY THE STORM SURGE.

HURRICANE CAMILLE LEFT A
LEGACY OF DISLOCATION AND DEATH...

15,000 HOMES AND THE ENTIRE
ECONOMY OF THE AREA DESTROYED.

BUT CAMILLE DID NOT STOP THERE.

IT CAUSED DEVASTATING FLASH
FLOODS AS FAR AWAY AS VIRGINIA.

IN ALL, CAMILLE
KILLED 256 PEOPLE

AND LEFT ALMOST
$4 BILLION IN DAMAGE.

20 YEARS LATER, FEW
REMINDERS ARE LEFT.

HERE, A CRUMBLING
FOUNDATION OVERRUN BY WEEDS...

THE OLD RICHELIEU APARTMENTS...

A MONUMENT TO
THE COST OF STAYING.

THE SCARS LEFT BY
HURRICANE CAMILLE

HAVE BEEN COVERED OVER BY
TIME AND NEW CONSTRUCTION.

AND FOR MOST OF THE
YEAR, THE GULF IS PEACEFUL.

IN TROPICAL WATERS, SEASONS
PASS WITH LITTLE CHANGE

THE WEATHER MODERATED
BY THE WARM SEA.

BUT IN SUMMER, WHEN THE
SUN SHINES DIRECTLY DOWN

THE OCEAN BEGINS TO STORE UP
AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF HEAT

CREATING CONDITIONS
NECESSARY FOR HURRICANES.

SOME OF THIS HEAT IS
RELEASED BY THUNDERSTORMS

WHICH ERUPT WHEN
SEA WATER EVAPORATES

AND WARM AIR BEGINS TO RISE

CONDENSING AND
PRODUCING CLOUDS AND RAIN.

BUT MOST TROPICAL
THUNDERSTORMS DIE OFF QUICKLY.

IT TAKES A RARE SET OF EVENTS

TO PRODUCE A STORM AS
VIOLENT AS THE HURRICANE.

WE KNOW FROM
FORECASTING EXPERIENCE

THAT CERTAIN THINGS HAVE
TO BE TRUE OF THE ATMOSPHERE

TO HAVE A HURRICANE.

THERE MUST NOT BE VERY MUCH
WIND SHEAR IN THE ATMOSPHERE

WHICH IS TO SAY THAT
THE WIND SPEED ITSELF

CANNOT CHANGE VERY
RAPIDLY WITH HEIGHT.

THE REASON FOR THIS

IS IF YOU TRY TO FORM A
HURRICANE IN SUCH AN ATMOSPHERE

THE HURRICANE LITERALLY
GETS SHEARED APART

BEFORE IT CAN REALLY GET GOING.

SO HURRICANES DON'T
LIKE ATMOSPHERES

WITH A LOT OF SHEAR IN THEM.

THE WATER HAS TO BE WARM ENOUGH

BECAUSE THE WARMTH
OF THE OCEAN WATER

IS THE SOURCE OF
ENERGY FOR HURRICANES.

AND APPARENTLY THE WARM WATER

HAS TO BE SUFFICIENTLY
DEEP IN THE OCEAN.

IT HAS TO BE ABOUT
200 FEET DEEP.

IF THE WARM WATER
IS TOO SHALLOW...

IF IT'S JUST IN A THIN LAYER
AT THE TOP OF THE OCEAN...

THERE'S NOT ENOUGH ENERGY THERE

AND FOR VARIOUS OTHER REASONS,
YOU CAN'T GET A HURRICANE.

BUT EVEN WHEN ALL THESE

SO-CALLED NECESSARY
CONDITIONS ARE MET

YOU DON'T NECESSARILY
HAVE A HURRICANE.

YOU HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING
ELSE COME ALONG TO START IT.

Narrator: IT TAKES WHAT
SOME SCIENTISTS CALL A "KICK."

IN THE PACIFIC THE TRADE
WINDS COLLIDE NEAR THE EQUATOR

PRODUCING LOW-PRESSURE ZONES
AND MASSIVE THUNDERSTORMS.

IN THE ATLANTIC SIMILAR
DISTURBANCES OCCUR OVER AFRICA.

ABOUT A HUNDRED OF
THESE LOW-PRESSURE WAVES

MOVE OUT OVER WATER EACH SUMMER

BUT ON AVERAGE, ONLY
SIX BECOME HURRICANES.

AIR CONVERGING INTO THE
STORM SYSTEM BEGINS TO SPIN

UNDER THE INFLUENCE
OF THE EARTH'S ROTATION.

HURRICANE FORECASTERS LOOK FOR
THIS SUSTAINED CIRCULAR PATTERN.

AS THE STORM INTENSIFIES, THE
INFLOWING AIR PICKS UP SPEED

EVAPORATING MORE AND
MORE MOISTURE FROM THE SEA

TRANSFERRING ENERGY STORED
IN THE OCEAN TO THE ATMOSPHERE.

THE CLOUDS GROW EXPLOSIVELY

FORMING A RING AROUND
THE FUTURE EYE OF THE STORM.

THEN AT HIGH ALTITUDES, THE
FLOW OF AIR CHANGES DIRECTION

AS THE CLOUDS ARE
THROWN OUTWARD.

THE AIR THAT GOES
UP IN THE EYE WALL

MOST OF IT FLOWS OUT AT THE
BOTTOM OF THE STRATOSPHERE.

AND AS WE'VE SAID, THE
AIR HAS TO FLOW OUT EASILY.

THAT'S THE EXHAUST AIR,
THE WASTE OF THE HURRICANE.

SOME OF THE AIR THAT
GOES UP IN THE EYE WALL

ACTUALLY TURNS INTO THE EYE
AND SINKS IN THE CENTER OF THE EYE.

AND AS IT SINKS

THE INCREASING PRESSURE
CAUSES IT TO WARM.

IT'S WARMER THAN THE AIR IN
THE EYE WALL THAT'S GOING UP.

THE SINKING MOTION IS
WHAT MAKES THE EYE CLEAR.

Narrator: NOW A FULLY
FORMED HURRICANE

THE STORM DRAWS POWER
FROM THE WARM SEA BELOW.

AS THE WIND PICKS UP

THUNDERSTORMS FORM
A TIGHTENING SPIRAL.

THE EYE BEGINS TO SHRINK, AND
THE PRESSURE IN THE EYE DROPS.

THE EYE WALL IS ONE OF
THE STRANGEST FEATURES

IN THE ATMOSPHERE.

IT'S AS DIFFERENT FROM
DAY-TO-DAY WEATHER

AS THE ATMOSPHERE
OF JUPITER IS...

VERY, VERY STRANGE CONDITIONS:

THE VERY FAST ROTATION RATE, THE
VERY TIGHT GRADIENT OF PRESSURE

THE LOW PRESSURE AT THE SURFACE.

Narrator: NOT YET A
MATURE HURRICANE

ON SEPTEMBER 10, 1988, A
STORM SYSTEM NAMED GILBERT

MOVES INTO THE
EASTERN CARIBBEAN.

ON THE 11th, IT INTENSIFIES,
BECOMING A HURRICANE

AND IT'S HEADED
STRAIGHT FOR JAMAICA.

LATE MORNING ON THE 12th,
GILBERT HITS JAMAICA HEAD ON.

THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER
RATES THE STORM A CATEGORY THREE

ON A SCALE OF ONE TO FIVE, WITH
WINDS OVER 110 MILES AN HOUR.

OKAY, WHEN WE GO TO PRESS

WE'RE GOING TO HAVE IT OVER
THE CENTRAL PART OF THE ISLAND.

AND IT APPEARS AS THOUGH
IT'S GOING TO GO RIGHT DOWN

THE BACKBONE OF THE ISLAND.

Narrator: AT THE
HURRICANE CENTER

THE STORM HAS DRAWN
A FLOOD OF INQUIRIES

ALONG WITH A CRUSH OF
LOCAL AND NATIONAL MEDIA.

Reporter: I'VE NEVER SEEN
AS MUCH ACTIVITY TONIGHT

AS THERE IS TONIGHT,
BOTH IN TERMS...

Narrator: EVERYONE WANTS
TO KNOW THE SAME THING:

WHERE WILL THE STORM GO NEXT

AND WILL IT AFFECT
THE UNITED STATES?

FORECASTERS BOB SHEETS
AND BOB CASE ARE AT WORK

STUDYING THE COMPLEX
ATMOSPHERIC PUZZLE

THAT WILL ANSWER
THESE QUESTIONS.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT
135 NAUTICAL MILES.

HOW FAR HAVE WE GOT
HURRICANE WINDS ON THAT?

FOUR TIMES A DAY THEY
UPDATE THE OFFICIAL FORECAST

BEGINNING WITH A LOOK
AT COMPUTER PREDICTIONS.

EVERY SIX HOURS VIA SATELLITE

OR IF WE HAVE AN AIRCRAFT IN
THERE, EVERY SIX OR THREE HOURS

WE GET AN OBSERVATION AS
IS SHOWN HERE ON THE MAP.

AND WHAT WE DO, WE TAKE THE
INITIAL POSITION AT TIME ZERO

AND 12- AND 24-HOUR
POSITIONS EARLIER

AND FEED IT INTO A COMPUTER.

AND WE GET THE
POSITIONS BACK ON A COPY

AND THEN THE TRACKS ARE PLOTTED.

AS YOU CAN SEE,
THERE ARE DIFFERENCES

AND AT TIMES THERE ARE
EXTREME DIFFERENCES

AS MUCH AS ALMOST
90-DEGREES DIFFERENCE

WHERE ONE TRACK WILL TAKE
OFF TO THE EAST AND ONE NORTH.

Narrator: THESE MODELS ARE EACH
BASED ON DIFFERENT ASSUMPTIONS.

ONE MODEL, BASED ON WEATHER
CONDITIONS ON A LARGER SCALE

PREDICTS THAT GILBERT WILL
MOVE TOWARD A LOW-PRESSURE ZONE

EXPECTED OVER THE
SOUTHWESTERN UNITED STATES

HITTING LAND AS FAR
EAST AS NEW ORLEANS.

A SECOND MODEL, BASED
ON PAST STORM TRACKS

AND GILBERT'S CURRENT PATH

SUGGESTS THE STORM
WILL STAY SOUTH

HELD ON A WESTERLY COURSE
BY A HIGH-PRESSURE ZONE

OVER THE SOUTHERN UNITED STATES.

THE HURRICANE CENTER
ACCEPTS THIS SCENARIO

CALLING FOR GILBERT TO CONTINUE
WEST TOWARD TEXAS OR MEXICO.

BUT THESE 72-HOUR FORECASTS
ARE SELDOM ON TARGET.

THE AVERAGE ERROR
IS OVER 300 MILES.

WE HAVE 72-HOUR POSITIONS,
BUT THE 48- AND 72-HOUR POSITIONS

ARE USED MAINLY FOR
THE MARINE COMMUNITY.

ACTUALLY, WE FEEL AS THOUGH

BECAUSE OF THE
LARGE ERROR INVOLVED

IN THE 72-HOUR FORECASTS

IT WOULD PROBABLY BE
BETTER FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC

NOT TO RECEIVE THIS INFORMATION

BECAUSE ALL IT DOES
IS CREATE ANXIETY

AND FRIGHTENS MANY PEOPLE.

AND IF THEY ONLY REALIZED
THE LARGE ERRORS INVOLVED

IN THAT 72-HOUR POSITION

MANY TIMES THE HURRICANE'S
NOT EVEN GOING TO BE THERE.

IT IS MOVING TO THE WEST
AT 17 MILES PER HOUR.

WINDS ARE AT 115
MILES PER HOUR...

Narrator: STILL, GILBERT CLEARLY
PRESENTS A THREAT TO THE GULF COAST

EVEN IF NO ONE
KNOWS EXACTLY WHERE.

Reporter: THE EYE IS
VERY WELL DEFINED.

ONCE IT GETS INTO
THE GULF OF MEXICO

IT WILL BE LIKE A
BULL IN A CHINA SHOP

AND WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO KEEP

A VERY CLOSE WATCH
ON THAT FOR YOU.

Narrator: BOB SHEETS TRIES
TO HOLD OFF ANY EARLY PANIC

BY URGING PEOPLE TO SIT TIGHT...

DO NOT EVACUATE UNTIL THE
STORM TRACK IS MORE CERTAIN.

Sheets: WE'VE PREDICTED THAT IT
WILL GO INTO THE GULF OF MEXICO

WITHIN 48 HOURS.

THE PEOPLE OVER THE
GULF SHOULD PAY ATTENTION.

Narrator: THE FIRST REPORTS OF GILBERT'S
IMPACT ON JAMAICA ARE COMING IN:

HALF A MILLION
HOMELESS AND MANY DEAD.

GILBERT IS POTENTIALLY THE
MOST DESTRUCTIVE HURRICANE

IN OVER A DECADE.

EARLY EVENING ON SEPTEMBER
12, AS GILBERT MOVES OFF JAMAICA

A HURRICANE WARNING IS PUT
UP FOR THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

WESTERN CUBA AND
THE CAYMAN ISLANDS.

THE FORECASTERS ARE WORRIED
THAT AS THE STORM NEARS THE CAYMANS

EACH COMMUNICATION
COULD BE THE LAST.

Sheets: "THE CAYMAN
ISLANDS SHOULD...

"HAVE NEARLY
COMPLETED PREPARATIONS

"FOR A MAJOR HURRICANE...

FOR A DANGEROUS HURRICANE..."

WE'VE GOT TO MOTIVATE THE
PEOPLE TO TAKE THOSE ACTIONS.

Forecaster: HOW ABOUT "FOR
DANGEROUS HURRICANE CONDITIONS"?

"FOR SEVERE
HURRICANE CONDITIONS."

IN ORDER TO GET THIS
MESSAGE TO THE CAYMANS

WE HAVE TELEPHONE CONTACT.

SO WE'RE GOING TO TELEPHONE IT
DOWN TO THE POINT DOWN THERE.

WE ALSO HAVE HAMS HERE.

WE'LL GIVE IT TO
THEM IMMEDIATELY

AND HOPEFULLY WE CAN GET
THIS INFORMATION TO THE CAYMANS.

Narrator: THEY SOON LEARN THAT
PHONE LINES TO THE CAYMANS

HAVE BEEN CUT OFF
BY THE HEAVY WEATHER

SO THE BULLETIN WILL HAVE
TO BE SENT BY HAM RADIO.

GILBERT IS NOW A CATEGORY FOUR

WITH WINDS AT LEAST
130 MILES AN HOUR.

FEW HURRICANES
EVER GET THIS STRONG.

DO YOU HAVE A CONTACT
IN THE CAYMANS?

PROBABLY.

I'LL SEE WHAT I CAN DO.

WE NEED YOU TO GET IT

BECAUSE WE HAVE NO OTHER WAY

OF CONTACTING THEM AT
THIS POINT FROM JAMAICA.

Man: Go ahead.

COMPLETE PREPARATIONS FOR
SEVERE HURRICANE CONDITIONS...

Narrator: THIS COMPUTER SIMULATION
SHOWS WHAT GILBERT LOOKED LIKE

BEFORE IT HIT JAMAICA.

ITS EYE MEASURED 25 MILES ACROSS

TYPICAL OF MOST HURRICANES.

BUT ITS VIOLENT MOOD WAS
ONLY BEGINNING TO EMERGE.

PAST JAMAICA A DAY LATER

THE EYE HAS SHRUNK
TO TEN MILES ACROSS...

A SIGN THAT THE STORM
HAS SHARPLY INTENSIFIED.

GILBERT IS NOW A CATEGORY
FIVE, AS STRONG AS HURRICANES GET

WITH WINDS OVER
155 MILES AN HOUR.

HEADING RIGHT FOR
THE EYE OF THE STORM

IS NOAA'S RECONNAISSANCE PLANE

NOW WITHIN 100
MILES OF ITS TARGET.

PINPOINT THE EXACT CENTER

TO HELP FORECASTERS DETERMINE
IF IT'S MOVING STRAIGHT AHEAD

TOWARD MEXICO'S
YUCATAN PENINSULA

OR TURNING NORTH TOWARD
GALVESTON OR NEW ORLEANS.

PROBES AND SENSORS ON
THE OUTSIDE OF THE PLANE

RECORD AIR PRESSURE, HUMIDITY

TEMPERATURE AND WIND SPEEDS

WHILE RADAR SHOWS
WIND AND RAIN PATTERNS...

INFORMATION
CRITICAL TO PREDICTING

THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM SURGE

AND ASSESSING GILBERT'S
POTENTIAL WIND DAMAGE ON LAND.

TO GET THE MOST
COMPLETE INFORMATION

THE PLANE NORMALLY
FLIES INTO THE STORM

AT 5,000 FEET ABOVE
THE SEA SURFACE

WHERE THE WINDS CAN BE FIERCE.

THE ONLY HARD CONVECTION
IS RIGHT IN THE EYE WALL.

WE'RE LOOKING AWFUL HIGH

FOR THAT FAR AWAY.

IT LOOKS A LOT LIKE
ALLEN ON THE EIGHTH.

YEAH.

IT WAS A PIECE OF CAKE AT FIVE.

Narrator: HUGH
WILLOUGHBY, LEAD SCIENTIST

AND FLIGHT METEOROLOGIST
JEFF MASTERS

ARE CONCERNED THAT TODAY
IT MIGHT BE TOO DANGEROUS.

SHOULD THEY CHANCE 5,000
FEET TO GET THE BEST DATA

OR CLIMB UP TO TEN FOR SAFETY?

IF WE'RE STRAPPED IN
AND WE'RE READY FOR IT

AND DON'T HAVE ANY
ALTITUDE EXCURSIONS

WHICH I DON'T THINK WE WILL...

IF WE GO AT 5,000 FEET

WE SHOULD MISS THAT
HEAVY CELL THERE.

IT MIGHT BE BIG ENOUGH

TO ORBIT IF WE HAD TO.

WE COULD CLIMB TO 10,000
FEET ORBITING IN THE EYE

IF WE GOT A BAD PASS AT 5,000.

BUT ALLEN WAS JUST LIKE THAT.

WE SPENT THE WHOLE DAY
AT FIVE WITH ONE GOOD BUMP.

YEAH, IT SHOULD BE A PUSSYCAT.

LOOKS LIKE THE WORST
CONVECTION IS ON THE NORTHWEST...

Narrator: NO PLANE HAS CRASHED IN
AN ATLANTIC HURRICANE SINCE 1955

BUT ENOUGH CLOSE CALLS HAVE
TAUGHT THE CREW TO BE CAUTIOUS.

IT'S NOT ALWAYS PLEASANT

BUT IT'S ALWAYS INTERESTING,
ALMOST ALWAYS INTERESTING.

NELSON AND I

THE FIRST STORM
WE FLEW TOGETHER...

EDITH, IN A DC-6...

AND WE... IT JUST KNOCKED
US ON OUR, ON OUR CANS.

IT JUST UPSET US WILDLY

AND WE WEREN'T AT
ALL SURE WHAT HIT US.

THE AIRPLANE WAS
PHYSICALLY UPSET.

WE HIT SOME KIND OF
EXTRAORDINARY TURBULENCE

THAT JUST THREW US
TEMPORARILY OUT OF CONTROL.

AND I WASN'T SURE FOR...
IT SEEMED LIKE AN ETERNITY.

I WASN'T SURE JUST WHICH WAY
WAS UP AND BALANCED FLIGHT.

AND NELSON AND I THOUGHT

MAYBE THIS... MAYBE WE
WERE MAKING A MISTAKE

IN THIS WHOLE THING.

MAYBE WE WERE, BUT HERE WE ARE.

Researcher: David?

Turner: YES, SIR.

Okay, we're going
to go in at 10,000 feet.

AT TEN, HUH?

Yeah, we're... playing it safe.

LOOKS IMPRESSIVE, ANYWAY.

WE HAVE ABOUT 15 MILES

TO THE BEGINNING OF THE WALL.

Let's track 1-8-0.

Willoughby: WELL, THE
EYE IS VERY SMALL

ALMOST TOO SMALL TO
MANEUVER AN AIRPLANE IN.

WE CAN GO STRAIGHT ACROSS IT

BUT WE DON'T WANT TO
TURN A LOT INSIDE THE EYE.

IT'S ONLY EIGHT MILES ACROSS

AND ALL AROUND IT ARE VERY
INTENSE THUNDERSTORM UPDRAFTS.

AND IT'S... YOU DON'T
SEE MANY LIKE THIS.

Narrator: MOMENTS FROM
ENTERING THE EYE WALL

THE PILOT MAKES IMPORTANT
LAST-MINUTE CORRECTIONS

IN ORDER TO HIT THE
CENTER OF THE STORM.

Masters: This
will be our 18-Z fix

so we want to steer it
till we find zero winds.

LET'S SET THE CONDITION ONE.

Masters: We got 100
knots of wind now.

Willoughby: Yeah, I thought
it might drop off, but it hasn't.

Not yet.

Well, if it hasn't by now

it probably won't.

We may see some
200-knot gusts here...

25-knot updrafts.

Narrator: NOW IN THE EYE WALL

TURBULENCE BEGINS
TO ROCK THE PLANE.

HERE ARE THE
HURRICANE'S HEAVIEST RAINS

AND STRONGEST WINDS.

Masters: Let's keep
track of those winds.

Turner: Okay, we're just
coming into the edge now.

Narrator: THE EYE IS AS CLEAR AND
AS SMALL AS ANY THIS CREW HAS SEEN.

IT IS A NARROW
CYLINDER 12 MILES HIGH

AND PERFECTLY CLEAR ALL
THE WAY DOWN TO THE SEA.

Researcher: Okay, do a
right bank, 20-degree roll angle

and let's hold it for
about ten seconds here.

Narrator: THE CREW LOOKS DOWN ON A
RAGING SEA AND WAVES 50 FEET HIGH.

Nelson: Jeez, look
at that water out there.

Narrator: BY LOOKING
AT THE DIRECTION

IN WHICH THE WIND
IS DRIVING THE WAVES

THE CREW SEARCHES FOR A
POINT WHERE THE WATER IS STILL

MARKING THE EXACT
CENTER OF THE HURRICANE.

Researcher: Do you
see a center below?

Turner: We're almost over it.

I'll mark it.

LOOKS GOOD; THINK
WE'VE GOT THE CENTER.

Narrator: AS THE PLANE
PASSES THROUGH THE CENTER

ITS INSTRUMENTS RECORD
AIR-PRESSURE READINGS

LOWER THAN EVER BEFORE MEASURED

FROM AN AIRCRAFT
IN THE ATLANTIC.

Researcher: We set a new record

for aircraft surface
pressure... 894 millibars.

THESE ARE EXTREMELY
RARE CONDITIONS.

THIS IS THE SORT OF
THING THAT YOU'D SEE

IN THE 1935 LABOR DAY
STORM OR HURRICANE CAMILLE.

YOU GET DESTRUCTION LIKE
A TORNADO OVER A SWATH

40 MILES WIDE, PERHAPS.

VERY, VERY UNUSUAL
OVER THE TROPICAL OCEANS.

Researcher: On the south
side, highest winds are 129 knots;

on the north side, 167 knots.

Narrator: EVEN AS THE AIRPLANE
HEADS OUT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EYE

WIND AND AIR-PRESSURE
DATA ARRIVE VIA SATELLITE

AT THE NATIONAL
HURRICANE CENTER.

THE ONLY HURRICANES
THAT WERE OF THIS CLASS...

WE USE A SCALE OF ONE
TO FIVE, AND THIS IS A FIVE...

WERE HURRICANE CAMILLE IN 1969

HURRICANE ALLEN IN 1980,
WHILE IT WAS OVER THE WATER

NOT WHEN IT MADE LANDFALL

AND THE 1935 HURRICANE THAT
WENT INTO THE FLORIDA KEYS.

Narrator: THE FORECASTERS
HERE PORE OVER THE NUMBERS

FASCINATED BY THIS ASTONISHING
DISPLAY OF NATURE'S POWER.

IT LOOKS LIKE 40 MILES WIDE.

YOU'VE GOT 80 KNOTS,
MAYBE 100 MILES PER HOUR.

THAT'S THE SAME KIND OF WINDS

THAT ARE IN THE AVERAGE TORNADO.

Narrator: THEY ARE
CONCERNED THAT FIGURES

BASED ON MEASUREMENTS
TAKEN AT 10,000 FEET

MAY NOT ACCURATELY REFLECT
CONDITIONS AT THE SEA SURFACE.

AS THE PLANE HEADS BACK FOR
ANOTHER PENETRATION INTO THE EYE

THE SENSE AMONG CREW MEMBERS
IS THAT THE STORM IS SO STRONG

THE READINGS HAVE TO BE RIGHT.

THEY'RE QUESTIONING OUR PRESSURE

BECAUSE WE ARE EXTRAPOLATING
A SURFACE PRESSURE

FROM 10,000 FEET.

THE HURRICANE
CENTER CANNOT BELIEVE

THAT WE ARE GETTING SUCH A
STRONG PRESSURE IN THE EYE

BUT WE BELIEVE IT.

Narrator: DURING THE DAY, THE EYE
SHRINKS BY OVER A MILE IN DIAMETER...

EVIDENCE OF FURTHER
INTENSIFICATION.

Turner: It looks
smaller, doesn't it?

Researcher: I think it's down
to six or seven miles across.

That's pretty small.

Narrator: AS THE EYE SHRINKS, THE
AIR PRESSURE CONTINUES TO DROP

AND THE LOWER THE PRESSURE,
THE STRONGER THE STORM.

Anything spectacular
on the pressure that time?

The lowest I saw was 882.

Narrator: READINGS IN THIS
RANGE WERE LATER CONFIRMED

BY ANOTHER NOAA PLANE

AND ACCEPTED AS THE ALL-TIME
RECORD LOW FOR THE ATLANTIC.

HURRICANES DON'T
STAY LIKE THIS VERY LONG.

THERE ARE ALREADY
INDICATIONS THAT THIS STORM

WHETHER IT HITS THE
YUCATAN PENINSULA OR NOT

WILL WEAKEN IN THE NEXT
DAY OR DAY AND A HALF.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IS THERE'S A
RING OF SLIGHTLY STRONGER WINDS

FORMING AROUND THE
EYE THAT WE SEE ON RADAR

AND OVER THE NEXT DAY OR
SO, THIS RING WILL CONTRACT

AND PROBABLY STRANGLE
THE EYE THAT WE SEE NOW.

THE PRESSURE MAY GO DOWN
FOR THE REST OF THIS FLIGHT

OR IT MAY ACTUALLY
START UP WHILE WE'RE HERE.

BUT TONIGHT OR EARLY TOMORROW

THE CENTER WILL BECOME MUCH
LESS ORGANIZED, VERY PROBABLY.

Narrator: IT DOES
BECOME LESS ORGANIZED

BUT SURPRISINGLY, THE
STORM DOES NOT WEAKEN.

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING,
GILBERT HITS THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

WITH WINDS OF 170 MILES AN HOUR.

IT IS THE FIRST CATEGORY
FIVE HURRICANE TO HIT LAND

SINCE CAMILLE IN 1969.

Man: IN A STORM AS
INTENSE AS GILBERT

THE EFFECT OF THE ENVIRONMENT
IS MOVED AWAY FROM THE CENTER

AND TOWARDS THE
PERIPHERY OF THE STORM.

IN THIS REGION SURROUNDING THE
STORM... AT ABOUT 100 MILES OUT...

WE NOTICED AN INCREASE
IN THE WIND SPEED

AND THE FORMATION
OF A SECOND RING

WHICH, WITHIN THE NEXT
FEW HOURS, EVOLVED

OVER THE NEXT 12 HOURS INTO
ANOTHER COMPLETE EYE WALL.

ONCE IT FORMED,
IT STARTED TO ACT

JUST LIKE THE INTERIOR
PORTION OF THE STORM

AND STARTED TO SLOWLY
CONTRACT INWARD.

THIS CONTRACTION CONTINUED

EVEN AS THE STORM
APPROACHED THE YUCATAN.

AND BY THE TIME THE
STORM REACHED COZUMEL

THE AIRCRAFT NOTED THAT THE
WIND FIELD IN THE OUTER EYE WALL

WAS ALMOST AS INTENSE AS
IT WAS IN THE INNER EYE WALL.

WHERE THE INNER EYE WALL'S
RUNNING ABOUT 180 MILES PER HOUR

OUT ON THIS SECONDARY EYE
WALL, WHICH IS ABOUT 50 MILES AWAY

THE WINDS ARE UP TO
120 MILES PER HOUR.

COZUMEL GOT THE
FIRST OUTER EYE WALL

AND THEN THEY GOT THE
INNER EYE WALL TOGETHER.

Narrator: BUT GILBERT WEAKENS
AS IT CROSSES THE YUCATAN.

CUT OFF FROM ITS FUEL
SUPPLY... THE OCEAN...

ITS WINDS DROP TO 97 MILES
AN HOUR, CATEGORY TWO.

BUT OVER THE GULF, IT'S
SURE TO STRENGTHEN.

LOOKING AT THE LARGER
WEATHER PICTURE

THE HIGH-PRESSURE ZONE IS
STILL DRIVING GILBERT WEST.

BUT OVER TEXAS, AN
EXPECTED LOW IS DEVELOPING.

THE HURRICANE CENTER
CALLS FOR GILBERT

TO VEER NORTH TOWARD THE LOW

AND PROBABLY HIT
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS.

THE TURN COULD BE SHARPER

SO A WATCH AND WARNING ARE
PUT UP FOR AN 800-MILE STRETCH

FROM MEXICO TO LOUISIANA.

Sheets: IT'S ON THIS MONITOR...

ANYWHERE IN NORTHERN
MEXICO THROUGH TEXAS.

THERE'S A LOT OF UNCERTAINTY

IN EXACTLY WHERE
THIS HURRICANE WILL GO

TWO OR THREE DAYS FROM
NOW IF IT WERE TO RECURVE

AND GO UP IN THE LOUISIANA AREA.

Narrator: TO HELP DEFINE THE
UNCERTAINTY FOR THE PRESS AND THE PUBLIC

THE HURRICANE CENTER
ISSUES LANDFALL PROBABILITIES

FOR LOCATIONS
THROUGHOUT THE GULF.

HERE'S ONE MORE WAY OF LOOKING
AT THE STRIKE PROBABILITIES.

PERCENTWISE, WE THINK
THE HIGHEST PROBABILITY

STILL IS FOR BROWNSVILLE
INTO THE SOUTH.

A LITTLE BIT LOWER PROBABILITY

THAT IT WOULD COME ALL THE
WAY UP THE COAST TO NEAR CORPUS

AND THE LOWEST PROBABILITY
HERE FOR GALVESTON.

SO IT'S POSSIBLE THAT
GILBERT COULD STILL COME

TO THE UPPER TEXAS COAST;

MORE PROBABLE,
THOUGH, THAT THE SYSTEM

WILL MAKE LANDFALL
SOMEWHERE FARTHER SOUTH.

Narrator: EVEN WITH A FAIRLY
LOW CHANCE OF A DIRECT HIT

THE CITY OF GALVESTON
PREPARES FOR THE WORST.

ONE OF ITS FIRST ACTIONS...
DISMANTLING BILLBOARDS

THAT COULD TURN INTO
DEADLY FLYING DEBRIS.

Woman: THERE'S A SERIOUS
STORM IN THE GULF OF MEXICO...

Narrator: THOUGH GALVESTON
IS OUTSIDE THE WARNING AREA

OFFICIALS CONSIDER
FULL EVACUATION.

THEY'LL KEEP IN TOUCH
WITH THE WEATHER SERVICE

AND THE NATIONAL
HURRICANE CENTER.

Man: IF THE HURRICANE
CONTINUES IN ITS PRESENT COURSE

WE COULD DELAY THE
DECISION TO EVACUATE.

IF IT DOESN'T INTENSIFY

WE COULD MAKE THE DECISION
AS LATE AS 8:00 P.M. TONIGHT.

WE WILL NOT BEGIN TO RELAX
UNTIL THE STORM GOES INLAND.

WE HOPE IT WILL GO IN AT
BROWNSVILLE AND SPARE GALVESTON.

WE HOPE IT STAYS AT A
CATEGORY THREE STORM.

BUT THEY DON'T PAY ME TO HOPE;

THEY PAY ME TO BE PREPARED,
AND TO PROTECT LIVES.

AND YOU CAN'T PROTECT LIVES

IF YOU ARE... ARE...
PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE.

WE HAVE 65,000 RESIDENTS.

WE WANT THEM TO BE
PREPARED TO EVACUATE.

Narrator: ALMOST HALF
THE RESIDENTS HAVE LEFT.

PATROLS ARE SENT OUT TO
PROTECT THEIR PROPERTY.

GALVESTONIANS ARE
ACCUSTOMED TO HURRICANES.

WE KNOW WHAT TO DO FOR THEM.

AND GALVESTON HAD THE
LARGEST NATURAL DISASTER

TO HIT THE NORTH
AMERICAN CONTINENT

WHICH WAS THE 1900 STORM

THAT REALLY
FLATTENED THIS ISLAND.

YEARS AGO IT WAS TOUCH AND GO.

"LISTEN TO THE FISHERMAN,
LISTEN TO THE OLD-TIMERS."

TIMES ARE DIFFERENT,
STORMS ARE DIFFERENT.

WE PREPARE BETTER.

THAT'S WHY WE DON'T HAVE THE
LOSS OF LIFE WE USED TO HAVE.

WE'RE GOING TO STICK IT OUT

AND WAIT FOR A WHILE TO
SEE WHAT THE HURRICANE DOES.

HOPEFULLY IT'LL
MOVE TOWARDS MEXICO

AND THE SURF WILL
GET BETTER HERE.

Narrator: WITH THE FRINGES OF THE
STORM HITTING THE TEXAS COAST

UP TO 400,000 PEOPLE
HAVE GONE INLAND.

HUNDREDS OF BUSINESSES AND
FACTORIES HAVE CLOSED DOWN

AND THE PRICES OF
FUTURES ON COTTON, OIL

AND OTHER COMMODITIES
HAVE STARTED TO RISE.

AS THE STORM APPROACHES LAND

AIRCRAFT BECOME THE EYES
AND EARS OF FORECASTERS.

FLYING ALMOST CONTINUOUSLY
THROUGH GILBERT'S CORE

THE CREW WILL BE FIRST
TO DETECT ANY CHANGES

IN DIRECTION AND INTENSITY.

THEY DROP A WINDSONDE

WHICH RECORDS WIND
AND PRESSURE READINGS

DOWN TO THE SEA SURFACE.

OKAY, IT LOOKS LIKE WE'RE
COMING UP TO THE CENTER HERE.

NOW, LET'S DROP IN
ABOUT FIVE SECONDS.

Crew member: I'm
ready to launch back here.

OKAY, LET IT GO.

Narrator: AS IT FALLS, THE
WINDSONDE TRANSMITS INFORMATION

BACK TO THE PLANE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELAY

TO THE HURRICANE
CENTER IN MIAMI.

GILBERT MAY NOT BE AS STRONG
AS IT WAS IN THE CARIBBEAN

BUT RADAR SHOWS THAT
THE MOST DAMAGING WINDS

ARE SPREAD OVER A MUCH
LARGER AREA THAN BEFORE.

AND AS GILBERT IS PICKED UP BY
GROUND RADAR ON THE TEXAS COAST

IT CONTINUES TO GROW
STRONGER AND MORE DANGEROUS.

AT 8:00 P.M. ON THE 15th

THE HURRICANE CENTER CALLS
FOR THE STORM TO MOVE ASHORE

SOUTH OF BROWNSVILLE
IN 24 HOURS.

SIMULTANEOUSLY,
GALVESTON OFFICIALS

ANNOUNCE THEIR DECISION
BASED IN PART ON A FORECAST

THAT HAD GILBERT TURNING NORTH.

WELCOME TO THE EFFECTS OF
GILBERT ON GALVESTON ISLAND.

IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT
THE EYE OF THAT STORM

IS HUNDREDS OF MILES AWAY.

WE HAVE 50-TO
60-MILE-AN-HOUR WINDS

AND TIDES FOUR TO
FIVE FEET ABOVE NORMAL.

AND WE ALSO HAVE AN
EVACUATION ORDER HERE.

IT CAME JUST A
COUPLE OF HOURS AGO.

Narrator: IT WAS THE PRIVATE
COMPANY ACCUWEATHER

THAT PREDICTED THE
TURN TOWARD GALVESTON.

THE FORECAST WAS LATER REVISED

BUT CITY OFFICIALS
NEVER FOUND OUT.

UNDER INTENSE
PRESSURE, THEY ACTED.

AT 8:00, WE RECOMMEND
EVACUATION OF THE ISLAND.

WE CANNOT WAIT TILL
MORNING TO DECIDE.

Huggins: MATTHEWS DIDN'T
REALLY WANT TO DO IT TONIGHT

BUT SAID HE FELT
FORCED TO PLAY IT SAFE.

I'D RATHER BE CRITICIZED
FOR OVERREACTING

THAN UNDERREACTING,
AND THERE'S DEATH.

Narrator: BEFORE
DAWN ON THE 16th

GILBERT'S CENTER IS 150 MILES
OFFSHORE AND MOVING TOWARD LAND.

WE WILL CONTINUE
THROUGH THE MORNING

GOING TO LOW-LYING AREAS

TELLING PEOPLE OF THE
NEED FOR THEM TO EVACUATE

AND TO GET TO A DESIGNATED
SHELTER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Narrator: IN BROWNSVILLE, 350
MILES SOUTH OF GALVESTON

THE CITY FACES AN EVEN
HIGHER LIKELIHOOD OF BEING HIT.

DOWNTOWN BUSINESSES
HAVE BOARDED UP TIGHT

AND RESIDENTS ARE
MOVING TO SAFE PLACES.

RAMON RIVERA HIGH SCHOOL
OVER BY VERMILION ROAD...

THEY HAVE ROOM
FOR 200 PEOPLE MORE.

OKAY?

Narrator: WITH THE
CITY 20 MILES INLAND

THE PROBLEM HERE
IS NOT STORM SURGE

BUT FLOODING FROM HEAVY RAIN.

FOR THOSE WHO MAY
NOT REALIZE THE DANGER

POLICE MOVE IN TO
WARN THEM DIRECTLY.

IT'S VERY POSSIBLE THIS
AREA'S GOING TO FLOOD.

OKAY.

ALL RIGHT, THANK YOU
FOR LETTING ME KNOW.

IF YOU WANT A LIST OF
THE SHELTERS TO CALL.

THANK YOU.

Narrator: THE EFFORTS OF OFFICIALS
TO WARN PEOPLE HAVE PAID OFF.

75,000 PEOPLE FROM BROWNSVILLE
AND THREE SURROUNDING COUNTIES

HAVE COME TO PUBLIC SHELTERS.

THAT AFTERNOON, THE MAYOR
GOES TO THE REGIONAL OFFICE

OF THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE.

HE SEES ON RADAR THAT THE STORM

IS ABOUT TO HIT LAND WELL
TO THE SOUTH OF BROWNSVILLE.

HOW LONG DO YOU EXPECT

THAT WE'RE GOING TO
HAVE THESE KIND OF GUSTS

AND ALL THE RAIN AND EVERYTHING?

Weather Service officer:
AT LEAST UNTIL MIDNIGHT.

WE SHOULD GET A
PRESS RELEASE OUT

TO CHANNELS FOUR AND FIVE
AND LOCAL RADIO STATIONS

TELLING THEM THAT.

Narrator: BUT GILBERT
IS SUCH A LARGE STORM

THAT HIGH WINDS STILL
THREATEN THE CITY.

THE MAYOR URGES
EVERYBODY TO STAY INSIDE.

AND HEAVY RAINS.

SO WE WANT TO KEEP
PEOPLE IN THE SHELTERS

AND REMAIN CAUTIOUS UNTIL WE'RE
SURE THAT THE DANGER HAS PASSED.

Narrator: BUT THE DANGER
DOES NOT PASS QUICKLY.

THE WEATHER SERVICE HAS
NOW ISSUED A TORNADO WATCH

AND THE POLICE RUSH OFF

TO CONFRONT A MORE
IMMEDIATE THREAT...

A FREAK ACCIDENT
THAT COULD KILL.

TWO WIRES HAVE APPARENTLY
GOTTEN LOOSE AND ARE TOUCHING

CAUSING A POWER
SURGE UP ON THE WIRES.

Narrator: AT 6:00 P.M.
ON SEPTEMBER 16th

GILBERT FINALLY HIT
LAND IN NORTHERN MEXICO

ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE RIVER,
125 MILES SOUTH OF BROWNSVILLE.

TEXAS WAS SPARED
MAJOR LOSS OF LIFE.

STILL, THERE WAS AN
ESTIMATED $50 MILLION

IN PROPERTY DAMAGE,
CAUSED MAINLY BY TORNADOES.

DIRECTLY IN THE STORM'S PATH

IN THE CITY OF
MONTERREY IN MEXICO

TORRENTIAL RAINS AND FLOODING

PRODUCED THE STORM'S
WORST TRAGEDY.

FIVE BUSES CARRYING
EVACUEES OVERTURNED

IN THE RAGING FLOODWATERS.

IN ALL, 140 PEOPLE IN
THIS TOWN PERISHED.

THOSE PLACES HARDEST HIT
WILL BE A LONG TIME RECOVERING.

IN MEXICO, GILBERT LEFT
DAMAGE UP TO $2 BILLION...

60,000 HOMES
DESTROYED, 202 DEAD.

IN JAMAICA, GILBERT
DEMOLISHED HOMES

BUILDINGS, CROPS,
ROADS AND POWER LINES.

THE COST... $2 BILLION, 45 DEAD.

IN ALL, GILBERT
KILLED 318 PEOPLE

AND LEFT BILLIONS IN DAMAGE.

IT WAS ONE OF THE COSTLIEST
HURRICANES IN HISTORY.

FOR THE FORECASTERS, GILBERT
WAS A MODERATE SUCCESS.

THE STORM DID NOT MAKE
ANY UNEXPECTED MOVES

AND THE HURRICANE CENTER WAS
OFF BY JUST 63 MILES IN ITS FORECAST

24 HOURS BEFORE LANDFALL.

FOR RESIDENTS OF
GALVESTON RETURNING HOME

AND OFFICIALS WHO
CALLED FOR THE EVACUATION

GILBERT REMINDED
THEM OF THE DIFFICULTY

OF GAUGING THE RISK
OF A MAJOR HURRICANE.

DID WE SHUT DOWN THE CITY?

THE CITY WAS SHUT DOWN ALREADY.

GIVEN THE SAME SCENARIO

WE WOULD MAKE THE
SAME DECISION AGAIN.

IN THE GALVESTON SITUATION,
YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER

THAT THERE WAS A TEN
PERCENT OR 12% PROBABILITY

THAT THE EYE OF HURRICANE
GILBERT WOULD COME

WITHIN 65 MILES OF GALVESTON
DURING THE NEXT 24 TO 36 HOURS.

NOW, LET ME TURN
THAT QUESTION AROUND.

IF YOU WERE THE
OFFICIAL IN CHARGE

AND YOU HAD A ONE CHANCE
IN TEN OR A ONE CHANCE IN NINE

THAT THAT EYE OF
HURRICANE GILBERT

WAS GOING TO PASS WITHIN
65 MILES OF YOUR COMMUNITY

WOULD YOU HAVE ACTED?

Narrator: IN FLORIDA,
OFFICIALS ONCE AGAIN ACTED.

SUNDAY MORNING, PEOPLE
WERE ADVISED TO EVACUATE

AND BY AFTERNOON,
MORE THAN A MILLION

HAD LEFT THEIR HOMES.

DURING THE NIGHT,
HURRICANE ANDREW HIT

WITH WINDS EVEN MORE
VIOLENT THAN EXPECTED.

FIERCE AS IT WAS, THIS TIME
THE STORM DID NOT POSE

ANY MAJOR PROBLEMS
FOR FORECASTERS

TRACKING DUE WEST
FOR TWO FULL DAYS

BEFORE MAKING LANDFALL.

WHEN DAYLIGHT CAME

IT BROUGHT WITH IT THE SHOCK
OF UNPRECEDENTED DESTRUCTION

AS STORM PHOTOGRAPHER
EMMETT WILLIAMS RECALLS.

Williams: WELL, WE WERE ALL
PACKED UP AND READY TO GO.

WE DECIDED TO TAKE
ONE LAST RIDE DOWN U.S. 1

ONE LAST LOOK AT HOMESTEAD.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE
A DAY CAN MAKE.

I DON'T THINK ANYONE IN
THE WORLD HAD ANY IDEA

THAT ANDREW WOULD WREAK
THIS TYPE OF DEVASTATION.

Narrator: AND WHO
WOULD HAVE GUESSED

THAT LESS THAN A MONTH
LATER, ANOTHER STORM, INIKI

WOULD DEVASTATE THE
HAWAIIAN ISLAND OF KAUAI

REMINDING US THAT DESPITE
OUR INCREASED UNDERSTANDING

WE ARE STILL VULNERABLE

TO THE AWESOME
POWER OF THE HURRICANE.

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