Flood Creates Big Thirst

A Florida Power & Light dike containing a cooling pond at a power plant in Indiantown, Fla., broke in the middle of the night in 1979, washing a railroad locomotive off its tracks and sending residents scrambling to their rooftops for rescue. At first light, I waded into this bar in Port Mayaca because I saw people coming and going from it.

Thigh-deep water didn’t keep them from serving drinks.

The photo moved on the Associated Press wire. This is the original print I transmitted, including the caption. Click on the image to make it larger.

Decoding the caption

WPB-9 – this was the ninth photo we had transmitted from our office in West Palm Beach that day. We might go weeks without moving a photo, so to have transmitted nine meant that it was a big deal.

(AP LASERPHOTO) – was a required slug.

(ps041645mbr) – I think this was some kind of time stamp. “mbr” meant we we a member newspaper, not an AP staffer or PR flack.

MO MO NOT FOR USE IN FT PIERCE, STUART, FT LAUDERDALE OR MIAMI. Local TV out. – This is where I wasn’t playing nicely with the Associated Press. MO Means Magazines Out. (If they wanted to use the photo, they had to negotiate with us directly.) We were in a highly competitive area, so we “embargoed” our photos from being used by any competing media. I got into quite a set-to with the head AP guy who complained after we expanded our embargo to read, “Florida Out; USA Today Out,” meaning that no paper in Florida nor USA Today could use our photos. The AP guy said, “USA Today is a national paper. They don’t compete with you.”

“They’ve got a paper box in front of my office. I consider that competition,” I retorted, standing my ground.

One of my gripes with the AP was that they were very demanding. They wanted the pictures right away, not caring if you had to meet your own newspaper’s deadlines or or you hadn’t eaten or slept for 36 hours. Oh, yeah, they paid you five bucks a picture and didn’t give the photographer a credit line until just a few years ago.

Why am I running this?

Why am I running this? It’s two in the morning, I don’t have the car packed and I’m supposed to pull out for Cape in the morning. It was this or nothing.

The photo won a couple of national awards. Maybe it was because some folks thought it was news that people around Lake Okeechobee COULD pour water out of a boot without having the directions written on the bottom.