Photographers' Blog

Finding resilience after a tornado

Vilonia, Arkansas
By Carlo Allegri

A U.S. flag sticks out the window of a damaged hot rod car in a suburban area after a tornado near Vilonia, Arkansas April 28, 2014.REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The phone rang past midnight. It was my editor asking if I was available to jump on a plane at 6 a.m. to cover the devastating tornado that had raged across central Arkansas just north of Little Rock.

An upturned truck lies under a tree that has lost most of its branches, following a tornado near Vilonia, Arkansas, at sunset April 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

On a layover in Dallas, I found out our editors had arranged an aerial photo flight so we could get pictures out to our clients early the next day. When I landed in Little Rock, a shuttle was waiting to take me to the private side of the airport for my charter. This pre-planning meant there was no wasted time.

After about an hour of the roughest, most turbulent flight I’ve ever had over the hardest-hit areas of utter devastation, we turned around and headed back to the airport.

Men use boards as paddles as they search though the debris of what is left of homes in a lake after a tornado hit the town of Vilonia, Arkansas April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

When I landed, I uploaded a wide selection of photos to my editor Adrees Latif to prep and file to the wire, while I headed out in my rental car to provide coverage from the ground.

Being up in the sky gave me an advantage; I knew exactly where to go. This planning and teamwork made for a long but very efficient day of shooting.

Risking life for school, again

Cilangkap village, Indonesia

By Beawiharta

This is my second picture story about students going to school.

Still in Banten province, Indonesia, around 100 kms (62 miles), or a good four hours drive from my home. These students are not like the Indiana Jones students I covered previously, who crossed the river using a broken suspension bridge, instead, they use a bamboo raft.

I received a call from a local photographer saying he had found another group of students crossing a river using unconventional means. “Why are you not taking pictures yourself?”, I asked. Cikal replied, “We need to work together, you for the international audience and me for the Indonesia reader. Because I think they need a proper bridge. Maybe the students will get lucky from our pictures.”

I recalled our success story with the suspension bridge a year ago. Maybe we could do the same thing for these students. What Yan Cikal said reminded me of one of the “photographer’s tasks”: make a change for a better life through pictures.

Survival of mankind in the face of disaster

Tacloban, Philippines

By Bobby Yip

Back in 2006, I landed at Tacloban airport, then took a car for a six-hour journey to cover a mudslide which killed 900 people in a remote village in the central Philippines. Seven years later, Tacloban airport is the destination.

Each day after super Typhoon Haiyan battered the city, hundreds of homeless residents try to be evacuated. They fear being left behind, despite some having no clue about what their future holds in another city.

Many more do not leave their homes. They stay on, building make-shift tents and living among debris, where they can find useful items – zinc to make roofs and walls, wood to set up fire.

The samurai and survivors of Fukushima

Fukushima, Japan

By Damir Sagolj

Shortly after the mandatory evacuation was announced on television, Fumio Okubo put on his best clothes and his daughter-in-law served up his favorite dinner. By morning, the 102-year-old was dead. He had hanged himself before dawn.

GALLERY: BROKEN LIVES OF FUKUSHIMA

A rope knitted from plastic bags is certainly not a tanto knife. Nor was his death a dramatic one, with the public in attendance and blood all around but what an old farmer did that morning recalls the act of a samurai in ancient times – to die with honor. Okubo, who was born and lived his entire life between Iitate’s rice fields and cedar trees, wanted to die in his beautiful village, here and nowhere else.

For most people on Japan’s eastern coast – at least for those survivors who lost nobody and nothing – the true horror of the powerful earthquake and tsunami it triggered was over quickly. But for many unfortunate souls in otherwise prosperous Fukushima prefecture, March 11, 2011 was just the start of what for me is one of the most heart-rending stories I have ever covered outside the misery of the developing world.

The quiet of a nuclear beach

Iwaki, Japan

By Issei Kato

“I have to arrive at the beach before it starts raining.” This is what I was thinking as I drove up to the Fukushima coast, less than 35 km (21 miles) from the crippled nuclear plant. Because the weather forecast said it was going to rain in the region, I had packed a waterproof kit for my camera and beach gear so I could be ready to photograph the beach.

Iwaki city, located just 40 km (24 miles) south of the plant, had declared nearby Yotsukura beach open to the public this summer, the first time since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But, during the period between July 15 and August 18, when the beach was open to the public, the operator of the plant admitted that contaminated water was leaking out to the ocean. Government officials said 300 tonnes of radioactive water was probably flowing out to the sea every day.

Most of Japan’s beaches are controlled by the local government, which holds official opening ceremonies during the summer months and assigns lifeguards to patrol the beach. Residents and visitors can go to the beach during the off-season too, but it is usually less crowded. I went to the beach just after the open season had ended, thinking there would still be about 100 residents enjoying the sun, even though it was weekday, because the summer holiday season had still not ended.

Revisiting the Waldo Canyon fire

Colorado Springs, Colorado

By Rick Wilking

Covering natural disasters is a strange thing. You get there all in a huff, as fast as you can after the tragedy, and then try to seek out the major damage. You document all that, often busting hump for very long days, for a week or more depending on how bad it is.

Then inevitably the first weekend after the storm or fire comes and the story falls off the radar. Your editor sends you home to lick your wounds and wait for the next “big one.”

As I wrote this, another tropical storm cooked up off the coast of Africa, heading west. “It might be here in a week,” I thought. (Yes, people who cover hurricanes monitor such things.)

Spilling oil in Paradise

Ao Prao Beach, Thailand

By Athit Perawongmetha

I first met Piyapong Sopakhon on Coconut Bay on Samet island. He was surrounded by men in white bio-hazard suits and he stuck out because he was a young boy wearing a simple plastic sheet that protected his small body as well as orange dish-washing gloves that were too big for his small hands. It was as though he had opened up a chest of dress-up clothes and was getting ready for fun — but  matter at hand was not child’s play — the gloves were covered in a thick goo of the black gobs that were smeared across the beach — a toxic spread on golden buttered toast.

Piyapong is not a soldier nor is he a marine biologist. He’s just a school boy who, on any other day, would have been told off for skipping class. So I asked him: “Why aren’t you in school today?” His reply? “I just want to help.”

GALLERY: OIL SPILL HITS THAI RESORT

Born and bred on Samet island, his face was one of ardent determination. On this day, he was a volunteer along with the adults frantically trying to clean up this corner of paradise. So I told him he should find something with which to cover his nose and mouth or he might start to feel dizzy.

Pierced by a mother’s grief

Gujrat, Islamabad

By Faisal Mahmood

It was my day off, but for some reason I’d woken up early. As I was about to have breakfast with my wife and children the phone rang. It was my picture editor. A school bus had caught fire in Gujrat, 100 miles from Islamabad. Seventeen children were dead.

As I gathered my cameras, I could not stop thinking about how the parents must have sent their children to school after sharing the same kind of breakfast we’d just been having at home. I was dreading what I would find.

It took three hours to reach Gujrat. A large crowd had gathered near the charred remains of the bus. I saw three lunch boxes discarded on the ground. I couldn’t help but think about my own children’s lunch boxes, which I sometimes prepare before dropping them off at school.

Fishing in Fukushima

Hirono town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan

By Issei Kato

After some tough negotiations with local fishermen cooperatives I was allowed on board a fishing boat sailing out to check fish radioactive contamination levels in waters off the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Commercial fishing has been banned near the tsunami-crippled complex since the March 11, 2011 tsunami and earthquake disaster. The only fishing that still goes on is tied to contamination research carried out by small-scale fishermen contracted by the government. The fishermen set out to sea every two weeks remembering the good old days, as they seek to reestablish their livelihoods and anxiously hope they will be able to go back to full-time fishing again.

I began thinking about the best way to take as many versatile pictures as possible in a tough environment – on a tiny boat which is slippery and keeps rocking back and forth with waves of water splashing all over the bouncing deck. I was told that the fishermen were going to use gill nets which take up quite a bit of space on the deck. This spelled out more dangers and obstacles for my equipment and I, as I knew I would have to try hard not to get caught up in the nets or trip up and fall into the sea. I was worried that had I stepped on one of the nets I would get scolded by a gruff fishermen and the whole effort would be in vein because of my own thoughtlessness.

I decided to use a remotely operated camera on a monopod to take close-up pictures of the fishing net overlooking the boat. This unusual technique also enabled me to take dynamic photos from right above the water surface as well as under water. I attached my favorite Canon EOS5D Mk3 to the top of a monopod, across a ball head platform to avoid image rotation. I covered it with plastic waterproof material and connected a remote switch with a long cable to the camera to operate it from the safety of the deck.

Back for more in Moore

Moore, Oklahoma

By Rick Wilking

My wife and I were just about to open some little gifts celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary on May 20th when my cellphone rang.

I said “that’s going to be the Oklahoma call” without even seeing it was Bob Strong, North America Editor in Charge, on the other end. The presents went on hold and the packing began.

The next day I was back in Moore, Oklahoma, waiting for the weather to clear enough to fly in a Cessna 172 over the path of the storm. I say “back in Moore” because I covered the massive tornado that hit the same place in 1999 and again in 2003. The locals call the 1999 version “the May 3rd storm.” That F-5 storm killed 44 people and destroyed more than 300 homes.

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