Photographers' Blog

Hope turns to tragedy in quake aftermath

Cebu, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

It was a normal Tuesday morning for me that fateful day when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the central Philippines. I was covering a Muslim Eid Al-Adha religious festival at a Manila park, after nearly a week of floods coverage brought about by Typhoon Nari. As I was driving away from the park, I received a text message from a Reuters reporter about the quake. I felt the adrenalin rush as I mentally ran through my checklist of disaster gear while hitting the accelerator to reach home quickly. After getting my manager’s approval to cover the earthquake aftermath, I rushed to the airport to catch the next flight to Cebu city. I was lucky to get on a flight minutes before the plane’s door closed. After more than an hour, I arrived in Cebu and quickly contacted a driver and rented a van to go around the city. I was checking out damaged structures near the Cebu airport when I heard from a local radio station that hospital patients were being evacuated from a quake-damaged hospital.

When I reached Cebu City medical center, I saw the adjacent basketball court filled with hospital beds and patients. I immediately took pictures of a general view of the area. As I fired my shutter, I noticed some medical personnel surrounding a baby lying on top of a small table converted into a makeshift operating table at the far end of the covered court. I moved closer and took a few pictures only as I was worried I might interrupt their work to save the baby.

I moved to other areas to continue taking photos of the evacuated patients, but I made a mental note to come back later and inquire about the status of the baby and to get more details for my caption. When I returned to that spot after about two hours, I saw a man, who turned out to be the baby’s father, pumping oxygen manually in to the baby’s mouth. He told me the baby, their first born, is a boy. He gladly told me the baby’s chances of survival were good because he was now breathing. I felt a strange joy in my heart after taking a few photos of the baby and the father. After a few minutes, I was asked by medical workers to leave the area.

I left Cebu at dawn the following day to Bohol province, to cover the epicenter of the earthquake. I later found out from our pictures desk that there were many inquiries from clients about the status of the “quake baby”. I thought of returning to the makeshift Cebu hospital before flying back to Manila and felt a small gush of excitement as I looked forward to making images of a healthy baby born after a strong earthquake.

After arriving in Cebu early on Friday, I immediately rushed to the makeshift hospital. I couldn’t believe it when hospital workers told me the baby died later that same Tuesday night.

Nothing and no one between us

By Umit Bektas

At 13:41pm on Sunday, October 23 an earthquake measuring 7.2 magnitude hit the eastern Turkish province of Van. Minutes after the quake struck, first reports heralded large numbers of collapsed buildings with many people trapped under the debris. The first available flight to Van was on Monday so I decided to fly to Erzurum instead and from there take a four-hour drive to Van. When I arrived at Ercis, the town which had taken the brunt of the quake, it was just past midnight.

It was difficult in the dark to form a clear picture of the disaster and decide what to look for. I began to walk around the town. I photographed rescue workers making efforts to pluck people from under the rubble, but I could not spend more than a few minutes at each spot as I still had to get an overall picture. I had decided to look around for 45 minutes at the most before starting to transmit my first pictures. That was my plan until I came upon that one collapsed building.

A large crowd had gathered around a big pile of rubble on a small side street. There were many rescuers and a distinctive hum was rising from the crowd. Frantic work was going on around the building which had totally collapsed and was now level with the ground. I came closer. A person shouted, “There is someone alive!” They were trying to bring out a person whose dark hair I could see. I began to take pictures. Then I moved to the other side to try and get a different angle. And then I saw Yunus’s face for the first time.

Slow change in Haiti

In the weeks since I arrived in Port-au-Prince to cover the earthquake, the streets have been cleared of debris and thousands of bodies have been removed from the rubble. But in many ways, the changes seem incremental.

QUAKE-HAITI

In Cite Soleil a small improvised camp looks a lot the same, only it’s grown in size. Thousands of families continue living under blue plastic tarps, and they receive food from aid groups fighting against time as the rainy season approaches. When I left, on March 1, the food distribution at least was much more organized, watched over by American soldiers. The food just goes to women now, in an attempt to get aid to nuclear families instead of those who shove the hardest.

QUAKE-HAITI/FRANCE

About a month after the earthquake, on a trip to Titanyen, the site where some 100,000 were buried in mass graves north of the city, I saw a small group of Haitians with sticks and stones. They were trying to mark off land in order to build there in the future. There was nothing else, just gravel. No services at all.

The Devil on the loose in Haiti

The incessant drone of the motorcycle under me becomes distant as my mind creates images from the words of an elderly woman in the camp I just visited. “The Devil is on the loose in Haiti. He turns into a dog, a pig or a hen, to move unnoticed in the camps and devour life. Last night he appeared as a dog and took the life of a child.” In the camp everyone knows and speaks of the death, and the strange disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Every form that I have ever imagined devilish beings to take are banished from my mind when this Devil appears. He has become a 7-day diarrhea that “devoured” the life of the child. Is it easier to explain death in the hands of a demon instead of looking around and thinking that it might have been the lack of water, hygiene and food that snatched the life?

A Haitian man takes a bath on a destroyed street at Port-au-Prince February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The destitution of the Haitian people hits me everywhere I turn. In none of the camps I visited is there a face that doesn’t show the mark of poverty. “The city looks like it was bombed,” says the security expert who accompanies me daily. There is no building, house or street that doesn’t show the effects of nature’s strength. They really were bombed – bombarded by political violence, illiteracy, unemployment, AIDS and extreme poverty. The quake did nothing more than expose to the world the indigence of an entire nation.

How the earthquake in Sumatra affected me

Write a personal blog on an earthquake where thousands have been killed. Spot the contradiction there… but here goes – how the earthquake in Sumatra affected me.

So usual drill (1) Get a call. (2) Pack my bags, too much, too little, unpack, repack – I know I’m missing something. (3) catch a flight – London, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Padang. (4) Take pictures. (5) Transmit pictures. (6) Repeat (4) and (5).

Directly from the airport I go to the local earthquake-damaged hospital. I see a grandmother comforting the bravest nine-year-old girl suffering from two broken legs. She reminds me of another brave little girl, my eldest daughter, 10 years old. Heartbreaking.

Aftermath of a quake: Audio slideshow

A showcase of David’s Gray images of the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake are set to music in this audio slideshow.