Just days after a massive earthquake and tsunami pounded the Japanese coastline, Napa’s Adam Housley stood beside the shore, ready to report on the devastation to viewers back home in the states.
At first, it all seemed routine, he said.
Cameras rolled and Housley — a correspondent with the Fox News Channel — started talking, only to be cut short by the blasting sirens of the shore’s tsunami alert system.
Triggered by an aftershock from the record 8.9 earthquake that crippled the region, the siren meant the team had only minutes to find higher ground.
“We literally grabbed everything and threw it in the van,” he said. “If it took us more than a minute and half (to get out), I would be shocked.”
While the monster waves never came, Housley and his team continued to report on the situation as they fled to safety, determined to “tell the story without becoming the story,” he said.
A Napa native and 1989 graduate of Vintage High School, Housley — who returned to California on Thursday after nearly a week in Japan — has been “telling the story” for years now, covering breaking news from across the globe.
In October, he was on scene as the 33 Chilean miners were pulled to safety after spending more than two months trapped underground. His time spent on the Japanese coast comes after Housley covered similar disasters in Southeast Asia, Haiti and New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
By his count, reporting for Fox has taken him to 21 countries and 16 states.
“I’ve been to some pretty bad places,” Housley said. “We’re used to getting in and assessing the situation quickly.”
Having grown up in Yountville, Housley admits that his path toward a career as a globe-trotting news hound was an unlikely one.
After studying international relations and broadcast communication at Pepperdine University, Housley pursued a career in professional baseball, spending time pitching for a minor-league team in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
In the off season, he coached baseball at Justin-Siena High School and filled in at the sports desk of KVON radio in Napa.
At age 26 — having been released by the Brewers at the end of spring training — Housley made a life-changing decision.
“I knew that every year, I was going to be on the bubble,” he said. “When you get to those last few levels, it’s really a numbers game.”
Housley left baseball for good, a move that would pay off big in the end.
A few months later, having learned of an opening at KNVN, an NBC-TV affiliate in Chico, he submitted an audition tape — the only tape he had at the time, he said — and hoped for the best.
Despite having limited connections in the business, and relying on his lone audition tape, Housley got the job.
“Anyone in this industry will tell you that’s absolutely impossible,” he said.
From there, Housley climbed his way up the news ladder, picking up jobs in Sacramento and Santa Rosa before landing a position at Fox News Channel’s western regional office.
The move from his first job in Chico to a national network had taken only four years.
“It was one of those ‘only-happens-once’ kind of things,” he said.
Over time, Housley became a go-to correspondent for Fox, covering high-profile stories such as the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams, ground operations in Iraq and violence in the West Bank.
When disaster struck Japan, Housley got the call.
On the morning of March 11 — just hours after the massive quake — he boarded a flight to Tokyo to cover the ever-changing situation across the Pacific.
Upon arrival, Housley, along with his producer and a cameraman, met up with a local interpreter — known within the industry as a “fixer” — and began driving north toward the city of Mito in Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture.
While modern Tokyo, with its state-of-the-art retrofitting, fared well in the massive quake, regions further north were reduced to rubble, Housley said.
Throughout the Ibaraki prefecture, sightings of “hundred-foot boats tossed up in the street” and “cars skewered by fences” were not uncommon, he said, while some of the worst-hit areas further north remained unreachable.
“We couldn’t actually get to those areas,” he said.
One of the factors limiting the team’s northern progress was the growing nuclear dilemma in the Fukushima prefecture, the state due north of Ibaraki.
At their closest, Housley said the team made it to the city of Nakaminato, about 70 miles south of the Fukushima’s stricken nuclear power plants.
During their stay, Housley’s team was in touch with military officials monitoring the air for radiation levels. According to their information, they were never hit with anything potentially harmful.
Upon landing in Los Angeles, Housley was expecting to be checked for radiation, but the screening never took place, he said.
While the destruction is widespread and severe, Japan has already started to pick up the pieces.
“The relief effort began right away,” Housley said, adding that the men and women stationed at American military bases in Japan were “going at it full bore.”
Housley expects to return to Japan soon, providing follow-up coverage to one of the worst disasters in that nation’s history.
“Like I tell people all the time, we want to see and report — for our viewers — history from the front row,” he said.