Earthquake in China – a view from Beijing

June 3, 2008

It happened and it just happened, quietly but tangibly …  it only lasted 5 seconds…
 
May 12, 2008, 2:28 pm on the button, I was stooping to pick up a gift before rushing off to visit a client with two colleagues. The sudden dizzy feeling made me mentally rebuke myself for skipping breakfast and lunch; in those 5 seconds, I swore to myself never to do it again if I had to attend a formal meeting. But of course, my expressions remained calm. 
 
It’s an earthquake“, a sharp yet clear voice from the corner of the office broke this temporary silence which instinctively ignited my relief of being faint. “Hey buddy, maybe you are not so bad”, I said to myself.
 
So, that is how it started … on a normal working day, it just happened.
 
No worries, we had already had contingency plans…
 
Photographers immediately  rushed to the airport, we skipped the client visit and began to tackle the breaking story. From that moment, for the first time ever, the Beijing Pix Desk began running 24/7 with three editors: Grace Liang, Reinhard Krause and myself.
 
The first pictures of white collars wandering downstairs after escaping from a shaking Beijing office building hit the wire 10 minutes after the quake struck while we continued moving pix from around China showing general damage like burst water pipes and cracked walls.  

1st
 
 
While the mobile phones of all our local friends’ and stringers’ remained unreachable, the story escalated. “A middle school building collapsed in Dujiangyan, near Chengdu, burying 900; another toppled in Chongqing…” The snaps just kept coming - who knew at that time that it was just the tip of the iceberg of a much worse tragedy.
 
The local stringers had already headed to these two spots before I got their first SMS which had been delayed for almost 4 hours.
 
“Stay safe & fast ftp,” I replied in hopes that a short message would move more quickly.
 
Shortly after 9, the first image of real damage landed on the desk – then the second, then the third, and then the fourth … By midnight, we had already moved 40 pictures from the worst-hit areas of  Mianyang and Dujiangyan, with half of them exclusive stuff. And so it continued …  
 
 2nd
 
 By 7 am, 61 pictures earthquake-hit Sichuan province had been sent and by 2:28 the next day, 24 hours after the shock, 100 Reuters pictures had moved to the World… And then our staff photographers also began filing from different spots.  
 
 3rd
 
 
So, that was the first day after the earthquake,  then the second, then the third - it was a sleepless fortnight until the story began to quieten down a bit…
 
I can barely remember how many packages we moved from this terrible news story and all of them telling heart-breaking stories, ”relatives mourn near the body of their dead children”, “a 61-year-old survivor is rescued after being buried for 164 hours”, “a girl has to have her left leg amputated to save her life”…… There were too frequent heart warming moments as people all over the nation donated money and blood to the sufferers, 66-year-old premier Wen Jibao crying while visiting the area, exhausted young soldiers resting around their camp fire…

4th
 5th

6th.jpg
 
We received more and more images  from an ever increasing area including the epicenter and remote villages. In Beijing we tried to take an overview of the pictures file and ensure it was relevant and comprehensible, making  best use of the images we had and respecting the dignity of the victims. It took professionalism and a degree of detachment while deep inside our hearts we were shocked and crying. Now things are calmer we have time to think back over that time and the images frozen in our memories - so it’s blogging time.

7th
 
I would like to register special thanks to everyone who contributed and to the diet of Red Bull, coffee and cigarettes on which we survived for that sleepless fortnight …  
 

2 comments

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Captivating images but sad all the same… my heart goes out to the victims and their families.

Posted by Diana Ngila | Report as abusive

Both the words and the pics are touching. Are the pics all taken by you? so good…

Posted by Celia | Report as abusive