Devastating Storm Rocks The Memphis Flyer

After publishing more than 750 consecutive issues, The Memphis Flyer was forced to skip an edition after a devastating storm whipped through the city on Tuesday, July 22, the day the paper was set to head to the printer.

“Our building had no power, we had no way to deliver the paper and no way of picking up stuff from our advertisers,” says Flyer Publisher Ken Neill. In addition, few if any businesses were open to carry the Flyer, and even if the paper had been distributed few readers would have been able to pick it up.

While the storm received scant national attention, it left Memphis reeling, unleashing 100 mph winds, toppling a near forest of trees and leaving over 300,000 people without electricity, roughly 75 percent of the Metro area. Eight days later President Bush approved a disaster declaration for Memphis, which should help the city recover part of the $30- 35 million it plans to spend on restoration. That figure does not include loss of revenue from the businesses that were shut down because of the storm.

Contemporary Media, the company that publishes both the Flyer and Memphis magazine, was also hit hard.

On the morning of the storm, only around 10 of the company’s 55 employees were able to make it to work. The blend of heavy rains and powerful winds forced three employees out of their homes, including Neill, who had an 100 foot oak tree fall on his house. He won’t be able to move back into his home until Christmas.

Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden says that he originally thought that his staff would be able to publish the paper only a day or two later. But the severity of the storm made that impossible. Instead, the paper returned a week later for its July 31 issue. VanWyngarden says his staff hardly missed a beat; in its return issue it scooped the local daily Commercial Appeal with a story on how Memphis’s main utility company turned down an offer from a rival utility to aid in the restoration.

As the city of Memphis struggled to clean up and repair the damage, the national press barely noticed what the July 22 storm had wrought. At the time, the media was reveling in the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein. Besides, the Memphis storm defied easy categorization; it featured no camera friendly tornadoes or hurricanes. It was just a lot of heavy wind. Says Neill, “We have a joke: If a tree falls in Memphis, does it make a sound?”

Matt Pulle is a staff writer for the Nashville Scene.