Photographers' Blog

Lives washed away

Zepce, Bosnia

By Dado Ruvic

For many days since the floods in the Balkans began, I have woken up with tears in my eyes. I have been looking at my friends in disbelief, watching as their lives slowly crumble.

Bosnia has been devastated by the worst floods to hit the region in living memory. More than a million people have been cut off from clean water, 100,000 buildings have been left uninhabitable and over half a million people have left their homes.

From the beginning of this crisis, I have felt a struggle within myself between the man who is watching his friends and family suffer, and the journalist, who is trying to document it all for the rest of the world.

Part of my family has been cut off by the floods. Some have become homeless, some have been left with almost nothing; just a plastic bag carrying a few sets of clothes, a piece of bread and a bottle of water.

Teachers, farmers, chefs… They have all become refugees. Their priorities in life are no longer taking a trip to the seaside, buying a car, or a new house. Just like in the old days of conflict in the Balkans, they are now struggling for mere survival.

Water, water everywhere

Moorland, Britain

By Cathal McNaughton

It’s like a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie. The Somerset village of Moorland is under five feet of water. Wading along the usually bustling main street, I am struck by how quiet it is – everything has an eerie, post-apocalyptic feel.

The only sound I can hear is coming from the now breached flood defences moving backwards and forwards in the ebb and flow of the rising waters, creaking like a sinking ship.

There is a strong chemical smell of leaking fuel as I push past the huge chunks of debris floating by in the murky waters. Cars lie abandoned with their lights left on, the houses are sandbagged and empty – their inhabitants left days ago. I see a deserted house with post still sticking out of the letterbox.

Living through a disaster

Golden, Colorado

By Rick Wilking

In a career as long as mine, spread across several continents, I have covered many, many natural disasters. If you have read my blog posts lately that seems to be all I write about. But this time is different. This time, I am a victim of a disaster.

The first week of September was unusually wet for the Front Range of Colorado, but not shockingly so. In fact, we were enjoying how green it was with wildflowers still in bloom instead of fretting about wildfires as we normally would be this time of year. But on the fateful day of 9/11 the rains picked up. I was away from my mountain property most of the day and when I came home noticed new waterfalls on the rocks I had never seen before. Still, I didn’t think much of it and just listened to the rain pound the house all night long.

Early on the 12th, while still dark, my wife got a call from her hospital asking if she would be able to make it in as they were hearing some roads were closed due to flooding. I turned on the TV and it looked like the highway to our driveway might be closed. I decided to wait until first light to take a look. I drove down our mile long driveway a short distance and soon realized it was heavily damaged and impassable by vehicle with a major washout where the road used to be.

Hiking in to a stranded town

Jamestown, Colorado

By Rick Wilking

My rule in covering natural disasters has always been: Find the worst damage first. That’s what the reporters will be writing about and it’s what people want to see. It also may be the hardest to get to.

Such was the case in the Colorado floods of 2013 that started on September 11.

Word came in early that the Boulder County town of Jamestown was devastated and cut off from all road traffic. Three creeks converged right in the middle of downtown, sweeping away whole houses. A man killed in a house collapsed by the flood waters was the first reported death in the tragedy. But there was also (supposedly) no way to get to the town short of going in on a helicopter. National Guard CH-47 Chinooks were ferrying people out so the logical thing was to try and get on one of those. That ride was denied immediately so I decided I would take another route, coming in the “backdoor” as it were.

Jamestown isn’t that far from where I live, normally taking about an hour. But with road closures it took almost two and a half hours just to hit another road block six miles from the town. I was fully prepared for this, having planned on hiking in all along.

Euro in pieces

Mainz, Germany

By Kai Pfaffenbach

When heavy floods hit parts of eastern and southern Germany two months ago, a few forensic scientists sitting hundreds of miles away in a dry place at their office in Mainz (south-western Germany) knew there would be a flood coming their way as well. Not that wet, not that destructive but also massive. The 13 men and women are members of the money analyzing team of Germany’s Federal reserve, Deutsche Bundesbank, specializing in reconstructing damaged or destroyed bank notes.

Experience from previous floods told them there would be thousands of notes found in private basements, flooded bank safes or cash machines. Those notes need to be reconstructed and, once they have been verified, the Bundesbank transfers the money back to its owners’ account, while the damaged notes will be burned.

At least 50% of a note is needed but even with less left the experts are able to reconstruct the bills. Obviously, a lot of Germans do not really trust the safes of their banks and hide money in private places – buried in their gardens, underneath wine shelves or (very innovative) in their mattresses. Within eight weeks of the flood more than 100,000 notes, worth more than 3 million euros, were sent to the analyzing laboratory in Mainz.

Poolside floods

Germany

By Thomas Peter

It was a sunny and calm Monday afternoon when I flew in a German army transport helicopter above a flooded region north of Magdeburg, the capital of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. The Elbe river had swollen to over seven meters (yards) above its normal levels and broken its banks and a dyke near the village of Fischbeck. Farmlands, forests and whole villages were inundated by its waters. Hundreds of people had to flee their homes.

Strapped to a bucket seat I sat beside the helicopter’s open sliding door and surveyed the water landscape below me: sunken buildings, tree tops and the tops of abandoned cars dotted the glistening, caramel-colored surface of the deluge. Here and there a street or a pristinely groomed hedge rose above the water as a reminder of the human order that had been submerged by the force of nature.

One week earlier I had waded through flooded villages upstream. Up to my waist in water I photographed the efforts of rescue teams and volunteers trying to contain the rising river and evacuate trapped inhabitants. When covering a natural disaster of this kind you have to be in the middle of it to capture the emotional dimension of the tragedy.

One week in the life of a photojournalist

Deggendorf, Germany

By Wolfgang Rattay

Being a news photographer and a senior photo editor is never boring. The past seven days will, I think, impressively explain what I am talking about.

Last Saturday I went to Munich to edit Germany’s soccer cup final (the DFB Pokal). I finished at midnight after looking at some 3,000 files of which about 60 images hit our services following Bayern Munich’s historic “Treble” – victory in the Champions League, the national soccer championships and the Cup.

Early Sunday morning I went to Munich’s famous square Marienplatz to reserve a spot for my Reuters TV colleagues and myself at a podium in front of the balcony where the team was expected to show up a couple of hours later. I took an early picture of a hard-core bare-chested Bayern fan who had been waiting since 9am for the 5pm show. It had been raining all day and the thermometer reached a maximum of 7 degree Celsius (44 degrees Fahrenheit).

A dramatic rescue outside my window

Athens, Greece

By John Kolesidis

Today I woke up to the deafening sound of thunder. The rain was pouring hard.

I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the rain out the window flood the surrounding streets. I was at a loss as to how I would get to the office without getting soaked, so I decided to stay put until things calmed down a bit. When I finished my coffee, I looked out the window again, and things had taken a dramatic turn.

GALLERY: SAVED FROM A FLOOD

A bit further down the street I could see an immobilized car getting swollen by the flood. Then I heard some muffled voices. I put on my galoshes and raincoat, took my cameras, and tried to get there. I walked through a small park, but that led me behind barbed wire which I couldn’t get over. I saw a woman trying to hold on to her car door, while the water was at waist level. I called out to her not to be scared, urging her to hold on to the door until I could get closer.

I took some pictures behind the barbed wire, and then I tried to find a way to cross the flooded park so that I could get to her. When I got in front of the fence, there was a cascade between me and the woman, as she was on the other side of the road. People were looking on from their balconies, and I started shouting out to them to call the fire brigade. Then a man on the same side of the street climbed on top of her car, and another man managed to approach as well.

An extreme year

2012 is the year of extremes in northern Brazil. Two regions of the country’s vast north suffered their worst natural disasters in recorded history, but they were opposite disasters, with floods in the Amazon and drought in the northeast. Reuters photographers Ricardo Moraes and Bruno Kelly covered both stories. Their contrasting accounts follow:

Ricardo Moraes writes from northeastern Bahia State:

People suffering without water but full of hope, was what I found in the state of Bahia, facing its worst drought in half a century.

We flew to Salvador da Bahia and immediately left for Maracas, one of the towns most affected by the drought. We stopped for the night in Feira de Santana, where we saw women and children drawing buckets of green water from a drying reservoir to give to their livestock. Since there were only women we couldn’t approach them too closely, as our presence without their men nearby would be disrespectful, according to their culture.

When December turns tragic

By Erik de Castro

December is normally a festive month in the Philippines with the Christmas season a big deal in this country of predominantly Roman Catholics. However, based on experience, heavy rains that can bring flash floods, landslides and lead to ferries sinking are also likely to happen during this period. For some Filipinos who have survived the worst kind of such disasters, December reminds them of the trauma they experienced.

Several villages in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City were caught flat-footed as they slept last Friday night when tropical storm Washi swept across Mindanao and Eastern Visayas, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that caused massive flooding, flash floods and landslides.

Early the next day, when a colleague told me that there were scores dead and hundreds still missing, I jumped from my bed, collected my disaster gear and asked for permission from Reuters to fly to the area. As soon as I got the approval, I rushed to the airport to get a flight. It was chaos at the airport as people were going home to the provinces for the holidays. The flight to Cagayan de Oro City was fully booked because flights were cancelled the previous day due to the storm. Many of the passengers were hoping they could finally get a flight, even more so after the disaster as they had to get home to check on their families. The names on the waiting list for stand-by passengers was already in the hundreds, with my name included. By luck, I was able to board one of the flights later in the afternoon.

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