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Sites Test Skype, CoverItLive, Twitter in Haiti coverage

Sites test Skype, CoverItLive, Twitter in Haiti coverage

Several Gannett journalists traveled to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, to cover the devastation of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that occurred Jan. 12. In this edition of NEWS WATCH, reporters Rachel Revehl of The News-Press at Fort Myers and John A. Torres of FLORIDA TODAY at Brevard detail how they handled covering a major news event amid death and destruction. In both cases, the journalists in the field and at home in the Information Centers innovatively used digital tools, including Skype, Twitter and CoverItLive, to help report the story and stay connected with their readers. Editors Michelle Hudson of Fort Myers, and Tom Clifford of Brevard, offer practical how-to guides.

Haiti offers haunting images and a call to return

Photographer Andrew West and Reporter Rachel Revehl traveled to Port-Au-Prince to cover the earthquake

By Rachel Revehl, Staff Writer, The News-Press at Fort Myers

Arriving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake, I soon found myself afflicted with an overwhelming rush of helplessness.

In five days, I shuffled through dust-choked streets, where toppled structures had entombed an estimated 200,000 people. I heard piercing, grief-stricken wails of countless women and children. I breathed air so thick with rotting flesh and burning refuse that my stomach instinctively wretched.

I stood in the turmoil of makeshift hospitals, guttural moans echoing as limbs were amputated and orphaned babies lay dying. I witnessed the aftermath of violence in a busy intersection, where two teens were shot in the head. One was still breathing, and yet no one stopped to help. I watched the miraculous rescue of a 21-year-old woman, still alive in the rubble. I was encircled by desperate, thirsty mobs and saw thousands of bloated, blood-covered corpses piled like waste on corners and set aflame.

At times, my mind protectively shut down, refusing to fully process the gruesome sights before me. But wellsprings of tears overcame me in fleeting moments of quiet. I felt completely powerless to clot the anguish that gushed almost everywhere I went.

I slept little and toiled more than 18 hours daily. Each night, I grasped to find the words to encompass the gravity of such utter devastation.

Photographer Andrew West and I had to force ourselves to remember informing our readers of what was happening was the best assistance we could give.

Before our departure the day after the earthquake, the massive extent of the suffering was only beginning to emerge. We felt our prior experience would prepare us. I spent four months as a journalist for a women’s magazine in Afghanistan in 2003, when burqa-clad women lived in fear and bullet-pocked buildings marked every turn. West had traveled twice before to Haiti, and we both witnessed the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But those first few days in Haiti – the screams of agony, the smothering stench and the mountains of rubble – literally knocked me to my knees as I began to share the sorrow of the Haitian people, if only briefly.

Still I know our journalism had an impact: We connected people with their families. We documented the tireless efforts of relief and aid workers. We helped show our community and the world the sheer breadth of the damage and need. And thousands responded with donations, and volunteers began to flood in.

The haunting images remain seared in my mind, and yet West and I are overcome with an intense desire to return to Haiti.

So many more stories are waiting to be told.

Read Rachel’s full account of her time in Haiti with staff photographer Andrew West.

Last Modified: February 2010