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.

Pierced by a mother’s grief

Gujrat, Islamabad

By Faisal Mahmood

It was my day off, but for some reason I’d woken up early. As I was about to have breakfast with my wife and children the phone rang. It was my picture editor. A school bus had caught fire in Gujrat, 100 miles from Islamabad. Seventeen children were dead.

As I gathered my cameras, I could not stop thinking about how the parents must have sent their children to school after sharing the same kind of breakfast we’d just been having at home. I was dreading what I would find.

It took three hours to reach Gujrat. A large crowd had gathered near the charred remains of the bus. I saw three lunch boxes discarded on the ground. I couldn’t help but think about my own children’s lunch boxes, which I sometimes prepare before dropping them off at school.

Lahore Inferno: Losing the battle with fire

WARNING: DISTURBING CONTENT

Lahore, Pakistan

By Damir Sagolj

A man wearing traditional white Pakistani clothes disappeared from the window back into the burning building. A minute later, a different man wearing black emerged from inside but it looked like someone was holding his lifeless body. The body was slowly pushed over the edge of the window and then released. Twenty seconds later the man in white came out again. He sat calmly for a few seconds in the open window with his back turned outwards and then just fell.

GALLERY: MEN FALL FROM BUILDING INFERNO

And that was it; both men were dead in less than a minute. After several long hours of fighting a raging fire (or were they short hours? Time gets twisted in extreme situations like this), this part of the story ended in the way I had feared from the beginning – the worst possible way. I shot pictures of people falling from the building to their deaths, of others crying on the ground, of desperate and helpless rescue workers.

It was supposed to be an easy pre-election day in Lahore. We did expect some heat as the campaign of the two main candidates was coming to an end but what happened that Thursday still haunts me without any signs of easing. What started as an easy day for me and poor government workers in their modern office building in Punjab’s capital ended with more deaths than in election violence across the country over the next few days.

India’s missing daughters

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

Atika, 10, woke up early one morning in August 2008 and was sent by her mother to buy a few items from a nearby shop. She returned and told her mother she would prepare tea for her father before quickly going to use a communal toilet close to her house. She never returned.

Ambika was a feisty 15-year-old high school student who took wrestling classes. Her mother returned home from work late in the night on October 10, 2010. She woke up the next morning and found her daughter missing.

Atika and Ambika are among the thousands of children who go missing from India’s streets, schools and homes every year.

Hong Kong’s National Day ferry disaster

By Tyrone Siu

When the National Day fireworks ended in enthusiastic applause, most photographers – especially those who were functioning on an empty stomach like me – thought we could finally call it a night. After all, we had witnessed all the hustle and bustle since early in the day at the flag-raising ceremony. It was, we thought, perhaps enough sensation for a single day.

I was about to enjoy a nice hotpot dinner with other battered journalists after filing my fireworks pictures, when a reporter on site mentioned a brief report online that ruined the plan.

It said that two ferries had collided off Hong Kong’s Lamma Island but did not mention any injuries, but a hunch told me it could turn out to be a particularly nasty disaster. A minute later, I was carrying my clumsy tripod to evade the happy festival-goers and run past the police’s quarantine line to search for a taxi.

Facing tragedy in Colorado

By Shannon Stapleton

I woke on the morning of July 20th happy and looking forward to a great weekend with my son at his last lacrosse tournament of the season.

That feeling of happiness changed quickly when I looked on the phone and it said “Can you get on a plane to Denver as soon as possible, there has been a mass shooting at the screening of Batman with 12 people dead and numerous injured.” My heart started to race and all I could think of was how just five months prior I had responded to the senseless killing of three high school students in Chardon, Ohio. A place close to my heart because it was near where I grew up and had played my last high school football in 1987.

Colorado and the Rocky Mountains have also been a place of very fond memories in my life. I spent the years of 1991 to 1995 there and never forgot the majestic feeling of the mountain lifestyle. I just couldn’t believe this was happening again and especially in the Denver area where I cherished the years spent in the region.

Rocking and Rolling on the Titanic Memorial Cruise

By Chris Helgren

In what resembles a Trekkie convention gone through a time portal, hundreds of passengers on the Titanic Memorial Cruise, retracing the Titanic’s voyage from Southampton 100 years later, now divide their time between promenading in the latest fashions of 100 years ago and debating the true color of Titanic’s funnels. Yellow, but what kind of yellow? Model maker Kenneth Mascarenhas and painter James Allen Flood don’t see eye to eye on the subject, and it’s suggested that fellow passenger Commodore Warwick should adjudicate the issue. After all, he saw the Titanic wreck in a submersible. However, Mascarenhas fails to take into account that the ship is now rusted through and covered with Oceanic mud, its funnels probably covered in barnacles.

Actually, there are plenty of things to do on board the MS Balmoral. I missed the “fluid retention and swollen ankles seminar” on Monday, but there’s been a parade of Titanic experts on show to fill us in on everything one would want to know (except the color of funnels). Sadly, due to the inclement weather, shuffleboard has been cancelled the last two days. As has a dance show, due to health and safety concerns. Many of my fellow passengers have been sighted hunched over, unable to promenade, green with seasickness.

The big drama yesterday was the helicopter evacuation of a BBC cameraman. Tour operator Miles Morgan said that the ship would swing back 20 nautical miles towards Ireland, within range of an Irish Coast Guard chopper. The ailing man was whisked upwards in a sling and we returned on our course, hopefully not late for our anniversary date. Captain Robert Bamberg assured everyone that would be the case if we continued at a speed of 15 knots.

The hard jobs

By Denis Balibouse

If I had my dream life as a photographer, it would be a mix of working like Ansel Adams, Michael Kenna and Hirochi Sugimoto, contemplating nature and shooting landscapes in black and white. However, I am a photojournalist, and I cover news: mostly sport, politics and finance, but sometimes heart-breaking events.

Last week in Sierre, western Switzerland, a bus carrying 52 people crashed in a tunnel, killing 6 adults and 22 children.

Last Tuesday night I was at home, after a quiet day doing mostly administrative stuff. At 10.31pm I received an SMS. The message was brief but described an accident involving a foreign bus in a tunnel on a motorway. It mentioned multiple casualties and forbade the media from entering the tunnel.

Costa Concordia: An incredible tragedy

By Max Rossi

4 o’clock on a Saturday morning, a confused call told me a cruise ship had run aground near the island of Giglio in the beautiful Italian region of Tuscany. My first reaction was “I can’t go!”, Pope Benedict was waiting for me to take pictures of him shaking hands with the new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in his private library at the Vatican. No way could I leave that event uncovered but the bad thing was that I was the only staff photographer in Rome – just 150 km (90 miles) from the ship.

A stringer photographer, Remo Casilli, was sent there immediately and he was able to get pictures of the survivors still covered in their blankets at Santo Stefano harbor and the first images of the ship lying on its side near the island. I spent the hours before the meeting with the Pope trying to get in touch with some photographers on the island, and finally, thanks to Facebook, got the phone number of a member of local news agency Giglio News to provide us with the first night images of the ship in the Giglio Harbour.

In the meantime chief photographer Stefano Rellandini was also searching and filing to to our global desk in Singapore whatever images we found. Saturday afternoon was spent coordinating and editing our stringer pictures from the island. I left Rome on Sunday morning and arrived on the island around 3 in the afternoon due to a long waiting list for the ferry in Santo Stefano harbor. I had the only car on the ferry. The rest were rescue vehicles.

Two faces of the same drama

A year ago, I was part of the Reuters team that covered Haiti’s massive earthquake, which claimed some 250,000 lives, and left a million people living in makeshift camps. This year, I was part of the team that covered another natural disaster– the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s northern coast and brought on a nuclear crisis.

The two events were very different. They occurred on opposite sides of the globe, in completely different countries, in different cultural contexts. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with a turbulent political history. On the other hand, Japan is one of the richest and most modern countries in the world– the third largest economy and, actually, one of the first to send help to Haiti.

But in covering these two catastrophes, I was struck by a few similarities.

Walking through the rubble of Kessenuma, in Japan, looking for a way to convey the scale of the destruction, I found myself almost in a situation like one year ago in Haiti.

  • Editors & Key Contributors