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Anderson Cooper in Haiti: 'I can't imagine being anywhere else'

January 13, 2010 | 12:01 pm

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As the magnitude of destruction in Haiti unfolded today, the broadcast television news divisions and cable news networks scrambled to get staff into the country to provide eyewitness reporting about the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit Tuesday.

All three network anchors were headed to Haiti: NBC’s Brian Williams and CBS’ Katie Couric from New York, and ABC’s Diane Sawyer from Afghanistan, where she had been reporting this week. Many networks were able to get reporters into the neighboring Dominican Republic, but reaching Haiti was more difficult since the airport tower in Port-au-Prince was severely damaged.

CNN got a jump on its competitors when anchor Anderson Cooper handed off his nightly show Tuesday to substitute anchor Jessica Yellin at 11 p.m. to race to the airport in New York, a move that resulted in him being the first American television reporter on the ground in Haiti. He arrived at 10 a.m. Eastern time today after catching the last flight Tuesday into the Dominican Republic and then hopping aboard a helicopter with a Dominican government official into Port-au-Prince this morning.

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Because of the chaos caused by the lack of air traffic control, his copter was nearly clipped by a fixed-wing plane trying to land at the same time, Cooper said in an interview.

Once on the ground, the anchor said he had witnessed staggering scenes of death and destruction, with bodies lying openly in the street, half-covered with pieces of cardboard. He saw a family frantically dig a young child out of the rubble as she cried out in pain; miraculously, they were able to extricate her alive.

“It is just blinding and painful,” Cooper said. “People are standing by the bodies because they don’t know what else to do.”

The logistics of conveying such scenes back to U.S. audiences remained a challenge as CNN and other networks tried to get satellite uplinks into the country. Cooper said his team was still trying to figure out a place to set up shop and where to stay.

“Everything is a challenge in Haiti in the best of times,” said Cooper, who has made 10 reporting trips to the country since 1993.

He said he was glad to hear that his competitors were also headed into the region to report on the story. “There’s nothing sadder than someone dying on the side of the road and no one even noting their passing,” he said. “I feel privileged to be here, lucky to be here. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. There are things that are extraordinarily horrific and signs of extraordinary strength, and that’s important for people to know.”

-- Matea Gold

Images courtesy CNN.

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