Hurricane Chaser Recalls 'Working in Hell' During Hurricane Katrina

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Renowned hurricane chaser Warren Faidley survives hurricane force winds, falling debris and a 15-foot storm surge during Hurricane Katrina.

"It was like working in Hell."

Those are the words professional hurricane chaser Warren Faidley chooses to describe his dangerous encounter with Hurricane Katrina on August 29.

Speaking with Fox News anchor Greta Van Suestren, you could hear the exhaustion and relief in his voice. "I was not really sure if we'd get through this. Between the high winds, massive storm surge and falling debris -- it was a battle to stay alive." Faidley's dramatic footage and pictures are now being seen around the world -- a testament to his struggle with Katrina.

Faidley, his brother and a group of storm adventurers pursued Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast, from Biloxi, MS to his ultimate destination, a fortified parking garage in downtown Mobile, Alabama.

Faidley says he retreated to his "back-up" Mobile location after deteriorating weather conditions closed highway 90 making a dash to Biloxi simply "foolhardy." Ironically, the earlier than originally forecasted arrival of Katrina may have been Faidley's first lucky break. The garage he was heading to in Biloxi was partially demolished during the storm when a portion of a colossal floating casino broke loose ripping the garage to pieces.

During the height of the storm, winds easily exceeding hurricane force swept through downtown Mobile. Faidley says, "It was impossible to walk between buildings. The winds were simply too strong. Trees that had stood for over 50 years were being torn apart. The area between buildings was especially hazardous as the high winds compressed and accelerated. I saw a heavy truck being lifted up by the winds -- fully extended to the heights of it suspension. It almost blew away. Glass and debris were flying everywhere."

A veteran, professional hurricane chaser of over 20 major hurricanes, Faidley says he was well prepared for the 15-foot storm surge and hazardous winds, but the greatest danger came unexpectedly "from above." The Battle House Tower, a 35-story high-rise along Water Street in downtown Mobile, is under final construction. Before the storm hit, Faidley noted the top floors were "covered in building materials and scaffolding." When Katrina's top winds hit, the top of the building was encountering even higher winds," Faidley says. I figured they had secured the loose things on top. I was wrong."

"When the outer eye wall hit downtown Mobile, extreme winds began to rip things off the top of the building. One large piece of scaffolding landed with a loud thud about five feet from a news crew. Something hit a window across from where I was standing and filled the air with shattered glass. A shard somehow made it down my back -- cutting a 1-inch gash.

As Faidley traveled along the flooded streets, he stayed close to the sides of buildings to avoid the missiles from above. "I could see them floating by in the storm surge so I knew they were still falling. It was like a war zone." Back in the relatively safe confines of the parking garage Faidley turned his high definition video camera towards the high-rise. "All of a sudden, a pile of building materials were picked up by the wind and carried skyward. In another frame, you can see building materials falling from the sky." (See attached video frame). Faidley says a utility crew in a small boat came plowing through the storm surge. "Several of us witnessed a 12-foot 2x4 fly off the top of the building and come hurling down towards the boat. We could not yell out to warn the guys on the boat -- the wind sound was too high. They just kept coming. The board missed them by only a few feet.

The situation was complicated when a tornado briefly touched down about 200 yards from Faidley and began picking up more debris. "This was truly like working in Hell," Faidley says.

Faidley is an award winning photojournalist and cinematographer. He is considered as one of the world's leading hand-on experts on severe weather. He is one of the few individuals who have survived both an F5 tornado and a Category 5 hurricane. (Andrew 1992). Faidley is the CEO of Storm Chaser® and Weatherstock® Photo and News Agencies and is the CEO of Storm Risk™, a storm safety consulting company. He often serves an on-air severe weather expert for cable news networks including Fox News.

Faidley's storm chase team is sponsored in part by SureFire, manufactures of the worlds finest illumination tools.


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Laura White