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As Haitian quake coverage continues, reporters strain to convey level of horror

Overwhelmed by the bleak despair in Haiti’s ruined streets, network television reporters who have fanned out across the destroyed capital of Port-au-Prince are struggling to convey the scale of the devastation and the urgent need for basic supplies.

“This city has been crushed,” NBC anchor Brian Williams said at the opening of his evening newscast Thursday. “From the air, it looks like the life has gone out of it, and from the ground, it almost has.”

All three network anchors -- Williams and his counterparts, ABC’s Diane Sawyer and CBS’ Katie Couric -- remained in Haiti for another day and plan to anchor their broadcasts from Port-au-Prince again tonight, a sign of the magnitude of the story.

Some network staff, such as ABC’s Robin Roberts, headed back to the U.S. today. She was replaced by Chris Cuomo, who tweeted when he arrived: “This is not over ... there is a lot of dying being done U hear it, u see it, u smell it.”

Having finally gotten teams and equipment into the country, the networks are confronted with an overabundance of heart-wrenching stories. At every turn, there are frantic people pleading for food and water, clawing at the concrete rubble of pancaked buildings to free those trapped inside. Dust-coated bodies mount in the streets.

“You can take a few steps and talk to another person and get another story,” said Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, who called from outside the remains of the Hotel Montana, where he witnessed a team of French doctors successfully dig out an American man who had been buried inside for 72 hours. “One thing viewers and readers need to understand is the sheer magnitude of the devastation and the number of people affected. I would say it’s difficult to get your head around this tragedy, and it’s impossible to get your heart around it.”

Reporting conditions are not easy. While Hemmer said Fox producers had located a hotel for its team, NBC and ABC staff were camped out at the airport. “We are sleeping on the concrete runway,” NBC correspondent Kerry Sanders wrote in a blog post today.

“We have MREs that were in my garage. I keep them there for hurricanes, but I had only three boxes, and there are 20 of us and more are coming,” he added, calling it “a mind-bender to see all this tragedy. If I could nod off, I might have nightmares. My heart is so sad for the people here.”

ABC’s Dan Harris, who has also spent the last few nights trying to catch a few hours of sleep on the tarmac, fortified by granola bars, said he’s been heartened by how much the story appears to be resonating with the public.

“I would have thought the challenging aspect would been to get Americans to tune in and focus on Haiti …but I’ve been amazed and pleasantly surprised how much people seem to care,” he said.

One of the difficulties has been the sheer amount of sorrow reporters are witnessing. “You have to be cognizant of the fact that you can get into heartbreak overload,” Harris said. “You don’t want it just have a laundry list of indistinguishable sob stories.”

Faced with such massive despair, many of the networks have tried to personalize the story by focusing on children – particularly those slated to be adopted by American families. CNN’s Kieran Chetry interviewed an Austin, Texas, family that had finally gotten word through Facebook that the boy they hope to adopt was alive and safe. Roberts helped track down a young girl in an orphanage whom her adoptive parents in Iowa had been desperately trying to find. And her ABC colleagues George Stephanopoulos and Elizabeth Vargas interviewed a couple in Portland, Ore., who frantically were seeking information about three young boys they want to adopt.

“This must be excruciating for you,” Vargas said – before revealing that ABC had found the boys, who were then shown on the screen live via Skype, much to the relief of their emotional parents-to-be.

-- Matea Gold

Comments () | Archives (3)

Watching the tv coverage of the devastation in Haiti has been heart-wrenching. I can't imagine the frustration of being on the ground trying to help and facing so many obstacles. It doesn't appear that the UN Peacekeepers are able to maintain security and organize the relief.The few people being disruptive should be arrested. It would seem that the American military needs to shift from the airport to the distibution of medical aid and food and water. We all need to pray for Haiti.

Saw Stephanopolous and Vargas do their, "ambush," piece with the adoptive parents desperate for word of their kids in Haiti and was disgusted. Laying that, "tell us and our viewers how awful this is for you," trip on them before springing their surprise, "by the way, they're all alive and we've got them on the video phone link-up... tee-hee," revelation was simply a portrait in exploitation and a sheer lack of any class whatsoever. It was so bad I wanted Tom Cruise to burst onto the set and give them a lecture about being glib. Aargh!

The Berlin Airlift keeps coming to mind. The Berlin Airlift kept a huge city city alive with the citizens building airstrips by hand. Even in the middle of winter without heat and food to help them... I have yet to see video of Haitians really helping themselves. I have seen Haitian mobbings.

I am shocked by the ignorance of many of the people and the seeming lack of humanity and intelligence in many of the videos that I have seen.

Videos of doctors telling people not to bury their dead in the streets because it will contaminate the water sources through seepage and yet the people continue and then on the other hand... the dump trucks just dumping bodies without identification or human ritual.

I think the biggest problem to overcome is the ignorance of a population that has been kept in continued SLAVERY through ignorance and lack of education-

Statistics indicate that 15 percent of the population is HIV positive and that 1 of 8 children die before the age of ONE. The HIV rate is probably double or triple that. Where have the funds been going to assist the Haitians? From the US Gov and the NGO's

This nation needs education on a huge scale. Even the poorest most war torn nations in Africa aren't this bad.

I pray for the survivors and their dead.

May God bless and save Haiti.


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