Photographers' Blog

Disaster follows disaster

Erik de Castro is Chief Photographer for Reuters in the Philippines. A veteran of disasters and hot-spots across Asia and other parts of the world, he was also Chief Photographer in Baghdad, Iraq from 2006-2009. In the past three weeks he has covered floods and landslides in the Philippines and a huge earthquake in Indonesia.

On Sept. 26, I was driving back from a holiday in the northern Philippines when I heard radio reports of flooding in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. At around 4 p.m. I was in Bulacan province just outside the capital when traffic slowed down due to waist-deep floodwater on the expressway.

Along the side of the highway, I saw residents on the roofs of their houses pulling up others to safety.  Others were taking shelter on the elevated highway. Wet and cold, scores of women and children were cramped in a makeshift tent on the roadside.

By the time I was done taking pictures, traffic was at a complete standstill. Floodwater was neck-deep about 250 meters ahead and floods were rising behind so I was effectively stuck. I decided to edit and file my pictures right there, and waited for the water to recede.

Eight hours later, ambulances and trucks were able to pass and I followed suit, reaching home at 3 a.m. after slowly driving past stalled muddy vehicles along the road and mud and garbage strewn streets.

The Sibuyen ferry disaster

When I heard that a ferry with 865 passengers onboard had sunk in the waters off Sibuyen Island in the central Philippines during Typhoon Fengshen, I set about trying to get there. My best bet was to hitch a ride on a Philippine Airforce helicopter.

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So at 05:30 I was at a Manila airforce base, hoping to accompany the first flight of the search and rescue operation. All I had were the clothes on my back, a laptop, a satellite phone and one camera body.

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My other camera body had been also been casualty of Typhoon Fengshen when it hit Manila but I was concerned that they would bump me off the flight if I carried too much.