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.
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.
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.
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.
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.