After many years as a reporter, Lester Holt knows there are no opportunities for a dry run when you’re trying to cover a flood.
Holt has been in and around flood-ravaged parts of Texas since Friday night, holding forth from places like Corpus Christi and Rockport while delivering reports on both “Today” and “NBC Nightly News” on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. He is the only one of the three broadcast-network evening-news anchors to make the journey (CBS’ Norah O’Donnell is the only anchor of the three broadcast-network morning programs to travel to Texas for on-the-spot coverage. She is expected to co-anchor “CBS Evening News” on Monday evening).
“This is what I do,” said Holt during a phone interview while on the ground in a Houston neighborhood, noting that he seeks “any chance I can get to get away from the set during a big story.” For Holt, it’s a return to his roots. He once hustled around San Francisco in a Ford Granada to get to stories quickly, and became known for a time as “the fastest mike in the West.” Now, in Houston, he acknowledged he was “a little soggy” while he and an NBC News team were trying to suss out potential stories to cover for the day: the arrival of more emergency respondents from outside the region to help people; the release of water from a local dam; the results of mandatory evacuations taking place in the area; and, of course, efforts made by local people to help their neighbors.
He and his crew get tips by talking to emergency personnel and staffers at local TV affiliates, but the news of the day “is not hard to find.” Holt is not sure how long he will stay on the scene, noting that President Trump is expected at present to visit Texas on Tuesday to survey the damage. “We will see where the story takes us,” he said.
The story has some TV-news outlets pivoting from an endless parade of stories swirling out of coverage of the Trump administration to something that is decidedly not political: a natural disaster that has far-reaching effects on a region of vital economic importance to the nation.
Holt is not alone, traveling with a crew and working with many other NBC News and MSNBC correspondents to deliver the story. The news outlets have five correspondents in Houston alone, along with reporters stationed in Galveston, Dickinson, Victoria and Corpus Christi. Since his arrival, he has interviewed a Houston shop owner who lost everything in the storm; people using boats to help neighbors; and a man wading through water to retrieve medicine for his wife.
Other news outlets have also scrambled to cover the Harvey aftermath, which is likely to affect one of America’s biggest cities for years to come. CBS expanded “CBS This Morning” by an extra hour Monday morning and has said it will expand “CBS Evening News” to an hour later today. Fox News Channel launched its early-morning show, “Fox & Friends First,” at 4 a.m. Monday, an hour earlier than usual, and expects to present live coverage of the scene throughout Monday. CNN has reporters stationed in Houston, Dallas, Galveston, and Lake Charles, Louisiana. Tom Llamas, the weekend anchor for ABC’s “World News Tonight,” will anchor tonight’s broadcast, slated to focus on the hurricane, from Houston, Texas.