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Help from afar: How 8 On Your Side kept Panhandle residents informed during Hurricane Michael

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle a year ago, Tampa Bay area residents were at ease after suffering the might of Hurricane Irma the year prior.

However, inside the newsroom at WFLA News Channel 8 in downtown Tampa, a team of reporters, producers and technical staff were working around the clock as if the historic Category 5 storm was outside their front door.

The team, although more than 200 miles away from Michael’s fury, was in wall-to-wall coverage after their sister station – WMBB in Panama City – lost power and the ability to broadcast to viewers desperate for information.

Television transmitters were inoperable, but a few cell towers remained in service. That gave the WFLA staff, including reporters J.B. Biunno and Melissa Marino, a way to reach people.

“Residents on the Panhandle lost a primary way of knowing what was going on,” said Biunno. “Michael was above them and they had little way of knowing when it was safe to go outside.”

Biunno, Marino and a rotating team of WFLA reporters provided non-stop digital coverage on apps, websites and social media pages. The coverage soon became a lifeline for the residents who had stayed through the brunt of the storm.

“We knew if there was anyway they were going to watch us, it was going to be online,” said Marino. “Facebook Live, on our website, that was the only way we could reach them.”

The non-stop online stream went from hours to days after the extent of the damage was revealed. WFLA’s coverage would continue for 206 consecutive hours, spanning eight days without a single break before WMBB was back on-the-air.

Watch the video above for a behind-the-scenes look at how WFLA staff were able to assist the Panhandle one year ago.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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