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Monday, September 05, 2005

The Presses Roll in Biloxi. We Hope.

George Sanchez shares a Knight-Ridder Update.

Operations Director Marlene Kler's team is going to try to print 20,000 copies of the Monday paper, with the other 20,000 being printed in Columbus. If problems arise, Columbus can handle the entire 40,000 run. The biggest challenge is keeping water pressure up enough to cool the presses. If it all works as planned, Biloxi will begin to handle the entire run. By Thursday, they're aiming to do it all there, using the pre-hurricane normal deadlines (other than inserting; preprints aren't being delivered to Biloxi yet. Randy Ladner and his crew have the inserters running, ready to go when needed.)

The Sun Herald management team, strong from the outset, is successfully ramping up operations on all fronts. Publisher Ricky Mathews was meeting again today with the governor and other officials to update emergency and relief operations. They have also begun discussing the future of the Gulf Coast and how the massive rebuilding effort will take shape.

Power has been staying on. Water pressure is still on the wish list. The fuel situation is in better shape than it was yesterday.

Great news: Only eight of the 270 employees remain unaccounted for. So far, everyone is safe.

The critical concern now is infectious disease. An MD (the husband of the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) counselor) and a local nurse arrived yesterday to help with health issues. At their advice, wash stations have been set up at the entrances to the building, near the portable toilets and other places. Those who are out and about - primarily photographers and reporters who return each day covered with mud - are asked to remove their shoes and soiled clothing before going inside. A disinfectant tent has been set up; a shoe wash is being devised.

Bathrooms inside the building had to be closed off to prevent people from using the trickle of incoming water to rinse their hands and splash their faces. With so many people eating and sleeping in such close quarters, hygiene is essential. At least one area shelter has been closed because of an outbreak of dysentery; cholera has also been reported in the area.

Today's new amenity: Building Manager Randy Ladner created a cabana-style tent shower. It's roomy enough to be comfortable; there's a pallet floor so feet stay clean and there's "hot" water - from containers warmed in the sun. True, it requires people to pour the water in when the bather is ready - but folks are lining up. Randy has been an indispensable figure since the storm blew through, always around, anticipating what needs doing and getting it done.

Advertising Director Vicki Barrett's group is gearing up to begin a survey Tuesday of The Sun Herald's advertisers to determine who's there and determine their plans and needs. The newspaper has been printing advertising again since Friday. (Vicki lost her home in the storm.)

Circulation Director Gary Raskett is continuously reorganizing distribution efforts to meet the needs of the community. They are creating new routes through neighborhoods where people remain. He is in touch with about 40 percent of the carrier force, and has help on hand from Belleville, Charlotte, Columbia, Columbus and Miami. A hundred news racks will be delivered to a vendor in Mobile, to be brought into Biloxi when Gary is ready for them.

Many of the carriers appear to be living in their cars, with their families and pets. The Sun Herald is giving them daily family packs of water, food and nonperishables; if there's a baby, they get diapers and other items; if there's a pet, they get pet food. These kinds of supplies are being provided to other employees, as well.

The housing picture is brightening a bit. Willie Cone, going door to door, was able to get 10 double hotel rooms out on I-10 toward Mobile; there's power there, some water pressure and an open restaurant. Some of the loaner journalists are being moved there; the RVs they've been using will now house three or four Sun Herald families whose homes are uninhabitable. Car pools will transport people to the hotel to conserve gas.

Biloxi's Judy Lee and HR loaners Martha Gallagher from Charlotte and Vanessa Sanz de Acedo from Miami have developed a great system for tracking housing needs and who's in what bed on any given day. The "hoteliers," as they've been dubbed, are managing 28 RVs in the newspaper parking lot, accommodations inside the newspaper building and hotel rooms as they become available. They are also assessing longer-term employee housing needs.

Inside newspaper building, a second-floor conference room full of air mattresses is serving as a dormitory. Lockers are being set up so people can lock up their personal items. People are still tucked away in other spots at night, as well. One office has been turned into an infirmary with cots; another is serving as an examining room. As the stress goes on and the heat continues unabated, health problems are cropping up. Two people have collapsed from heat exhaustion; stomach troubles are prevalent. It's been wonderful to have on-site treatment available. The VA Hospital across the street has also been a resource.

The National Guard has officers stationed right outside The Sun Herald, protecting a power transformer. Our folks have provided them with a portable toilet and are sharing food and water.

Affecting three or four Sun Herald families: Officials have cordoned off one neighborhood near the port because of contamination; the area is littered with cargo ship containers carried in by the storm surge that they believe may have held hazardous materials. It is also littered with carcasses from a nearby chicken processing plant. Residents have been refused access and have been told the homes will be bulldozed.

A number of people throughout Knight Ridder have offered temporary housing in their cities for displaced families. Everyone is very grateful for the offers; we'll send out word when we know what's needed. The same is true for offers to adopt families and provide specific clothing and home furnishings; that time may come, and we'll let you know. Right now, it's just a bit too soon.

At this point, HR Director Wanda Howell say they know of about 40 employees whose homes were totally destroyed, while many more need significant repairs. They will know more as days go by. They're distributing a daily employee newsletter with up-to-date information about activities at the paper, where to get specific kinds of help and other useful news.

We're trying to line up storage pods for employees to hold what they've been able to salvage from their homes. Moving boxes have been sent in and are available to employees.

People still unaccounted for:
Yashika Clark
Steve Cummings
Naydine Gillum
Hui Kang
Alma Magee
Felecia Moore
Stephon Smith
Beverly Strickland

If anyone has heard from any of these people, please call the employee hotline number, 1-800-346-2472.

Lee Ann Schlatter
Director, Corporate Communications
Knight Ridder
50 W. San Fernando St.
San Jose, CA 95113

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