Photographers' Blog

Haiti, destroyed and desperate

I crossed the border into Haiti from the Dominican Republic 36 hours after the earthquake hit. As we drove closer to Port-au-Prince, we began to see scenes of destruction and suffering, which only multiplied as we entered the city covered in smoke and in shock.

Residents walk at a destroyed area after a major earthquake hit the capital Port-au-Prince, January 14, 2010. Troops and planeloads of food and medicine streamed into Haiti on Thursday to aid a traumatized nation still rattled by aftershocks from the catastrophic earthquake that flattened homes and government buildings and buried countless people.  REUTERS/Jorge Silva
 
My first sensation was of absolute powerlessness; the pain, chaos and destruction were so overwhelming it seemed impossible to register it all. It was hard to know where to start, to find the exact words to describe everything that was happening and continues to happen. To translate all that it into images is a huge challenge.

Corpses of earthquake victims lie in a mass grave located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince January 15, 2010. Thousands of people left hurt or homeless in Haiti's earthquake begged for food, water and medical assistance on Friday as the world rushed to deliver aid to survivors before their despair turned to anger. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
 
I had never been in a tragedy of this magnitude, or seen anything close. Every day that passed we realized the dimension of the destruction was even greater. Every time I explored what was behind a wall, in a garden or a plaza, inside a field hospital or in the ruins of a house, there would be more children who urgently needed food and medicine, more desperate men and women with no hope for the future.

A boy eats as he sit on his merchandise at the ruins of Petion Ville market  in Port-au-Prince, January 26, 2010. Haiti needs at least five to 10 years of reconstruction help after its people were "bloodied, martyred and ruined" by the devastating earthquake this month, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said on Monday.  REUTERS/Jorge Silva
 
The whole city is an immense refugee camp without basic services, water, electricity, or toilets, that disappears at night in the darkness of ruins. There is the impression of statelessness, of an absence of institutions to help or oversee.
 
The extreme poverty of Haiti compounds the problem. An earthquake here may be worse than practically anywhere on earth, because the houses were constructed with cheap materials, on dangerous slopes, without building codes. There were no emergency services capable of responding.

People look at a destroyed building in Port-au-Prince January 14, 2010. The death toll from Haiti's earthquake could be between 45,000 and 50,000, with a further three million people hurt or homeless, a senior Haitian Red Cross official said on Thursday.  REUTERS/Jorge Silva
 
Many people ask if journalists help in disasters. I don’t think we help directly. Our job is to trigger the response from institutions that do. This is what motivates us to come to these places, to point the eyes of the world toward people who are suffering and clamoring for help. We have to sensitize people to the situation through our pictures.

Scenes from Haiti

The numbers from Haiti are staggering. Authorities say the death toll is likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000. Already, 75,000 bodies have been buried in mass graves. 1.5 million residents are homeless . Families have been torn apart. Neighborhoods have been flattened. The government has nearly ceased to exist. But numbers can tell only a small part of the story. Scenes of the devastation in Haiti are filling airwaves and newspapers around the world, triggering a flood of compassion and donations.

Click here for a selection of some of the most striking images captured by our own Reuters’ photographers. An injured child receives medical treatment in Port-au-Prince, January 13, 2010.  REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

An injured child receives medical treatment in Port-au-Prince, January 13, 2010. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz