Picture of Bill Hemmer in Haiti courtesy of Fox News
You’re a seasoned journalist who has seen many things in many places. How did what you saw in Haiti impact you both personally and as a journalist?
The sheer enormity of the human suffering is something few are prepared to experience. The misery does not end. And the cameras can only capture so much of that.
As reporters, we try to keep a safe distance from the emotions of most stories, but in Haiti, much like New York City during 9-11, that was simply impossible.
The need is so great. The pain so immense. We are human beings first. And to be a witness to the intense human struggle on every street, in every neighborhood, block after block is certainly going to impact you as a person.
Woman Goes Into Labor Amid Devastation: Bill Hemmer’s report from Haiti
There has been a lot of coverage about how the people of Haiti had to fend for themselves and wait too long for help? They blamed their government and there was criticism of the U.S. military for moving too slowly. What was your assessment of the situation on the ground?
Everyone there was trying to help, that’s the first thing that needs to be understood. The country is isolated, Third World, nearly surrounded by water, the port is knocked out, the airport is operational, but small.
The entire government structure was flattened and the city was in absolute ruins: these were the challenges aid workers, the U.S. military, organizations from around the world were up against. And anything that was contributing to the cause had to be flown in: Haiti has nothing.
So there lies this enormous challenge when faced with a destroyed infrastructure and the natural boundaries of an island country. Getting aid to 500,000 people takes time to organize, manage, ship, then distribute. It doesn’t drop like candy from the sky.
That last link, distribution, was going to be the number one barrier from the beginning. Certainly it is frustrating to many watching and reading and listening, but there is an honest effort to overcome the difficulties and do it safely, too.
How did you find the overall spirit of the Haitians? I see on TV coverage a lot of praying and singing of hymns. How do you assess their resilience and determination to get through this and what do you think is the prognosis for their society?
They are wonderful, strong, resilient people. And 95 percent of them are exercising great patience given their current condition.
Certainly that are pictures of looting, but I think those stories tend to be amplified in the media. Photographers and reporters have flown in from around the world and chances are there will be a camera in an area to capture trouble, if it occurs.
But allow me for emphasis: those people have been dealt a bad hand and they are dealing with it as best they can.
There is a concern that the media will eventually walk away from this story and Haiti will again be forgotten by the public. Are you going to stay with this story and continue to show an interest in the fate of the people of Haiti?
We often hear that criticism: once the crisis ends, the attention leaves with it. This story will be with us for years to come, especially if the U.S. military has a roll in peacekeeping.
We are ten days from the original 7.0 quake and the coverage has been nearly nonstop. That’s a credit to my colleagues and the efforts they are making to cover a story we hope to see only once in a lifetime.
National Geographic News coverage of the Haiti earthquake:
The combination of widespread deforestation and the recent earthquake in Haiti could lead to more landslides in the already hard-hit country, scientists say.
Although earthquakes on Haiti are not uncommon, experts say, the intensity of the January, 2010 temblor was unusual from a historical perspective.
Haiti Earthquake Survivor
Photograph by Lisandro Seuro, AFP/Getty Images
A Haitian woman emerges from the rubble on January 12 in the capital Port-au-Prince, which was completely devastated by a magnitude 7 earthquake. The temblor toppled buildings, including the president’s National Palace, a hospital, and schools, trapping untold numbers in the debris and killing thousands of others. Full gallery>>