Maria television reporting raises echoes of Katrina coverage

Destroyed communities are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory’s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW YORK (AP) — As the days pass since Hurricane Maria ripped across Puerto Rico, television reports increasingly echo those after Katrina a dozen years ago in sounding the alarm for a desperate population frustrated by the pace of relief efforts.

The question is: how many people are listening this time?

The story has struggled to get the attention of predecessor hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck the U.S. mainland.

The emotional plea of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Friday felt like a turning point, yet was soon overshadowed in the news by the resignation of President Donald Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price.

So far NBC’s Lester Holt has been the only broadcast network anchor to report on the storm from Puerto Rico, a telling measure of the story’s importance to news executives. Puerto Rican developments led NBC’s “Nightly News” each night this past week; on ABC’s “World News Tonight,” it was the lead story once.

Wind and rain stinging Chris Cuomo’s face was a defining image of Hurricane Irma coverage from Florida. Yet until Anderson Cooper arrived on Friday, Maria hadn’t attracted cable news’ marquee stars.

In a report from central Puerto Rico this week, CNN’s Leyla Santiago repeatedly emphasized that residents were U.S. citizens. A native of the island who now lives on the mainland, she’s aware how many people don’t know that. After the storm, many Puerto Ricans raised the citizenship issue when expressing surprise that relief efforts seemed sluggish following such a ferocious storm.

“I’ve heard it many times — we’re Americans, too,” Santiago said.

It’s fair to wonder how much of an influence this has had on interest in the story in both homes and newsrooms.

One measurement starkly brings this to light. When Harvey struck Texas, The Weather Channel’s audience peaked at 1.1 million viewers on Aug. 25, the Nielsen company said. It hit a record-setting 3.3 million on Sept. 10 with Irma’s landfall. The network’s biggest audience for Maria coverage was 494,000.