Haiti Earthquake

04/28/2010

Life in Haiti today

The bodies are gone. The streets are back to the usual chaos of the day. Haiti shows signs of devastation in more subtle ways now. People without limbs & newly cast prosthetic limbs walk the street. Piles of debris make already hazardous roads trickier to navigate. Makeshift tents create cities in fields lining what used to be homes. Yet still the Haitian people carry on, adapt to whatever man or Mother Nature inflict on them.

 

The news groups have given way to relief workers. Hotels that were once filled to capacity with satellite equipment & generators are now occupied with nurses & aid workers. The generators are still running, but no longer power the bright lights used to broadcast across the world, now they sustain life. Haiti is working back to life as usual but the wounds have just begun healing.

 

Marcus & I have been touring the country, revisiting people & landscapes from 6 months ago. Streets have a familiarity, faces are recognized, and the city hasn't 'changed' much. It's evolved. The culture has adapted, accepted, & carried on.

 

The news coverage has changed as well. When the earthquake first happened, it was crazy trying to uplink stories on the satellites. Now we're trying to find an uplink station. All of the news outlets have come to rely on the internet to feed their stories back to stations.

The only problem being, the internet isn't exactly 'state of the art'

here. While internet access has become a God given right in the rest if the world, it's still a coveted luxury here. Marcus & I are used to 'booking a window' to feed out our pieces, pressing play on a laptop, & presto we're on tv. Here we've been struggling to shoot, edit & now send the stories back to the world. Thanks to Marcus, I've learned so much about working the web professionally.

 

When the earth was still moving with aftershocks, the tent hospitals were frantically working on triage. This week the tents are secured in the ground, boardwalks keep stretchers from shaking the sick on rocky ground & medical professionals are focused on care not always related to the quake. We visited a field hospital fitting victims with prosthetic limbs. They had a fully operational hospital staffed with volunteers. Working my way through beds filled with sick babies, I just can't help but get emotional. A crying child has a way of going through a viewfinder directly to a heart. Even the seasoned nurses, used to dealing with illness everyday, were taken to tears.

 

I have to run & check on the progress of our feed...see ya'll when I get back.

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

 

04/26/2010

Return to Haiti

The plane takes off from Kennedy airport as the New York skyline slowly disappears on the horizon. I really love that skyline...it's become the place where I sleep, home of the people I love, bars where I spend my paycheck.  

Marcus & I are headed back to Haiti. A chance to see how this poor island nation has fared after one of the worst natural disasters in this hemisphere.   Neither Marcus nor I know what to expect. We have no hotel reservations, no driver, no clue what lies at the end of this flight. All we have are memories of what things were like when we left almost 6 months ago.  

The pilot announces the descent into Port Au Prince. The last meal of Burger King breakfast still gurgling in my stomach...it's about time to face the next 8 days. I didn't want to look out the window, just enjoying the last moments before the plane door opened & the island heat washed over us.  

The terminal had found its normal chaotic way of uniformed men & women herding the passengers into roped pens guiding us through a series of mazes towards other uniforms. Stamping passports, questioning foreign visitors, the masses surging for the bags all adding to the atmosphere.  

Now we're sitting in a bar at a hotel...we have a room (or should I say a safe place to rest at night), a full stomach, & a plan to cover the continuing story of the Haitian life after the quake.

Michael Thorne, Eyewitness News Photographer




01/19/2010

Life in Haiti



So it's
day three in country... since traveling across the border, so many things have
happened.

Crossing the border in the early morning was chaos. Spanish, Creole
English...everyone yelling out different commands in the midst of slow moving
trucks. It was a choreographed dance with giant diesel engines but no one was
conducting the steel belted performance. All the trucks trying to squeeze
into a tiny gate guarded by machine guns.

The roads on the other side of the border were riddled with pot holes and
rocks...making an hours drive into a half day event with cars slowing down
every 20 yards to avoid tire damage. In contrast to the ugly roads, the
mountains soared on the horizon giving us one last glimpse of Haitian
beauty.  

When we reached a suburb on the outskirts of the earthquakes epicenter, the
convoy stopped to pick out a translator. The van doors opened for the locals to
see the first of the rich, American journalists coming into this poor, now
destroyed, city. Hundreds of Haitian faces crowded our vans hoping to make $50
dollars, U.S.,
a day to for their knowledge of English & Creole. Just the mere stopping of
the cars almost incited a riot. We all were tired & needed to stretch our
legs...instead we were in a crush of people calling to us in broken English.
Then the interviews began...do you speak english? Do you know your way around?
Can you take us to the worst hit areas? I don't think we heard one person say
'no'. We picked an older man named Moyses.

As Moyses rode with us, he told stories of how his home had been crushed.
Terrible stories of what 35 seconds of Mother Nature's wrath can do to a
capital city in the richest hemisphere in the world. He kept muttering in
broken English, 'man this is nothing, nothing', and man he was right. 

The roads were jammed with trucks & cars, trucks & cars that couldn't
pass even the most basic safety inspection with bald tires and make shift
fenders. As we slowed to a crawl, out of the drivers' side window, we could see
the cause of the traffic jam. Two bodies, a mother & daughter who's
family couldn't afford the slightest medical help & now basic burial expenses.
Their bodies wrapped in sheets, left respectfully on mattresses in the middle
of the road probably with the hope someone would give them a decent place to
rest. Little did we know, this was only the beginning of our journey.

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

 

 

The first night



After a freezing cold shower in the dark...the best shower I ever felt.
After a warm Pepsi, the best damn Pepsi I ever tasted. After 2 pieces of stale
bread wrapped around some mysterious lunch meat...the best damn sandwich I ever
ate...it was time to curl up on my nice, comfy couch in a room about 103
degrees & infested with mosquitoes. Man I love this job!!! At least it
wasn't a van...plus it had running water... 50 feet outside the gate guarded by
armed men were thousands upon thousands of people who would have killed for my
accommodations.

The hotel is right outside the presidential palace. In the huge park
surrounding the palace is a 'tent city'. From the roof of the hotel, it's a sea
of colors peppering the ground with little streams of smoke drifting from
between the make shift homes. The crowds seem beaten down...face after face of
loss, hopelessness, & suffering. There is a low, steady noise of families
preparing dinner, relatives nursing their wounds, children fighting fatigue.
Late the first night, while asleep on my couch, there was a pretty big tremor.
The whole room shook violently while all the journalists in the hotel ran into
the courtyard. For that brief moment, I had forgotten the people sleeping right
outside the compound. The noise coming over the security wall was a reminder of
how these people had lived through one of the worst events ever. The screams
told the story not of the current tremor but of the collapse of city hours
earlier. The fear woven in that collective cry was more telling than the most
dramatic picture or the most descriptive sentence.
Daylight came...we prepped our gear, talked about what we expected to see,
& thought about how we would tell the story. The sun was harsh...not on our
skin but to our eyes.

My job is easy in this situation. Every picture is more powerful than the next.
The hardest part is deciding what NOT to shoot...realizing the limitations
television time sets, the scarce time on the satellites, the deadlines we need
to meet. I could spend hours with each street, each face, each element of the
story. The photographer in me wanted to show the devastation, in its entirety,
with each shot. The lack of power, satellite uplinks, & basic provisions
made all of the television stations on the ground be very selective about
showing the world the best shots, the most powerful pictures. We were all
rushing any available media uplink...begging them to give out 5, 10, & the
precious 15 minute window on the satellites to bring the stories to you. All
this without the things everyone takes for granted...things like cell phones,
gasoline, electricity. All the while, taking pictures of people without their
basic needs. Things we all take for granted...things like water, food, medical
care.

Neighborhood after neighborhood, street after street, house after house all
filled with exhausted hands & desperate faces digging through piles of
debris. The layers of cement calling out to loved ones' for help buried deep
within the rubble. Even after seeing it, I could never imagine the feeling of
futility hearing your aunt, father or friend's desperate voice rising from an
unmovable rock knowing your bare hands can't help them. It's amazing that such
quick event, something that lasted less than 5 minutes, can take so long to
claim its last victim. The entire time, forcing 'hope' into loved ones testing
their resolve. I've seen a lot of things in this world...much of it has
desensitized me to human misery.

Working to get the shot temporarily steals the emotion of the moment. Thinking
about how to get the right angle, figuring out the most effective sequence
(wide, medium, tight) physically not killing my clumsy self all take the
emotion away from the event in front of me.

People were bringing their dead to the cemeteries. Bodies in wooden carts,
bodies in pick up trucks, bodies in sheets...bodies taken to the one place a
distraught family with only the clothes on their backs can associate with
death, a grave yard.

 

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

 

Our first day



The end
of the first day was a blur of destruction, shooting pictures, & trying to
figure out where we were going to stay....I gotta tell you, the thought of
camping out in this tiny van with NJ, our driver & NOW our translator was
so unappealing to me. These guys seem alright but that's a little too much
'togetherness'. The problem was & is...port au prince is destroyed.
Buildings are imploded...layers of floors pancaked on top of one another,
separated by rubble, furniture, anything or anyone who might have been in
between when the quake hit. Streets filled with debris making the already
narrow roads impassable. I remember, and will always remember, the one thing I
DIDN'T notice...my camera was so focused on the immensity of the damage,
& my feet were kicking through the loose rubble...I didn't notice the
bodies surrounding me. Dead men, women, & children loosely wrapped in what
ever blankets or towels family members could find & left on the
sidewalk....their final resting place a dusty sidewalk on the spot of a place
once thought of as 'home'.  

The quiet drive through the city stopped at the CNN compound based at a local
hotel. A very nice woman took pity on us & gave out 3 rooms for 6 people.

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

01/18/2010

NY Doctors save boy

By Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett

This has been one of the most extraordinary assignments I've ever had. I was moved to tears seeing that the little Haitian boy we featured on Friday's 11PM newscast has finally been treated by doctors from New York. They not only saved his life, but they also saved his arm. I am so humbled by all of this. 


N.J. Burkett

 

The (clean) shirts on their backs

By Eyewitness News reporter Marcus Solis

The (clean) shirts on their backs

One of the things that has baffled, amazed and surprised me is the cleanliness of the Haitian people under these impossibly difficult conditions. The tent cities are teeming with garbage and there's concrete dust everywhere. Yet if you look closely, most people are wearing remarkably clean clothing. It's especially impressive because some were left with only what they had on at the time of the earthquake.

Finally I asked our translator Aldrin about it. He explained the tradition is rooted in the French influence: Haitians pride themselves on always looking good. Even under these conditions they won't wear the same clothes two days in a row without washing them. Even though water is scarce, he, like so many we've seen, saves a little water to bathe and wash his clothes. The sight of garments drying in the sun is everywhere.

It's encouraging to see that this catastrophe hasn't claimed the people's sense of dignity.

Marcus

01/16/2010

Update from Port-au-Prince

By Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett

Update from Port-au-Prince

I am absolutely awestruck at the devastation and suffering I am seeing. Although I have not been able to see the page, I have seen many of your messages and I appreciate your concern. I'm doing well, under the circumstances. Please give whatever you can offer to the Haitian relief effort. There is nothing they don't need right now. 
N.J. Burkett

01/15/2010

Heartbreaking

By Eyewitness News reporter Marcus Solis

It’s clichéd to say “You have to see it to believe it,” but in this case it’s really true. The scope of the damage here, the sheer magnitude of the devastation is hard to explain. My job is to give you a sense of how bad things are, but it seems impossible to accurately convey how bad they are. The quake didn’t devastate just one neighborhood or one part of town; virtually all of Port Au Prince is in ruins. The desperation is mounting as people wait for the aid to be distributed. As we were driving through town
tonight two young boys grabbed onto the side of our car - while it was moving--begging for water. What made it even sadder was that we were out of it and had none to give. It’s all so incredibly sad.

Marcus Solis

01/14/2010

Marcus Solis in Port-au-Prince