As journalists head to south Texas and Louisiana to cover the continuing floods and the damage from Hurricane Harvey, photographers who have been on the ground since the storm made landfall on Friday say they are managing with lack of gas, power and transportation, and using various communication methods to stay in touch with each other to work safely in hazardous conditions.
Austin, Texas-based photographer Tamir Kalifa has been shooting for The New York Times. He and the Times‘s Houston bureau chief Manny Fernandez have maneuvered around parts of the city in a Jeep 4×4 with four-wheel drive. “Make sure you’re in a vehicle that can get as much traction as possible,” he warns. Chicago-based photographer Alyssa Schukar, who has been shooting for The New York Times in Victoria, Texas and Houston, says her vehicle stalled at an evacuation point. Shukar and New York Times writer Alan Blinder then were able to travel with the National Guard to Houston, then traveled with citizens who used small boats to rescue their neighbors. Even in a boat, she says, “There are so many cars underwater, and there’s a decent chance we would hit one.” Downed power lines add to the danger.
On Tuesday, Kalifa told PDN that there is no gasoline available in the area, but colleagues who have had to cover hurricanes in the past had warned him to bring an extra supply. “We had ten gallons strapped to the roof. We used it, and wouldn’t have been able to finish without it.” (To learn how Houston Chronicle photographer Marie D. De Jesús and her colleagues prepared for the storm, read PDN’s interview.)
Reuters photographer Rick Wilking notes, “The cell phones work surprisingly well in most places, and I have a satellite phone for areas where they don’t, like Rockport,” a city that was hit hard when the storm made landfall and is still without electricity. Wilking has used Whatsapp to check in with his colleagues and share information. He has also used multiple map programs to navigate the flood. Schukar was able to use Google maps to help guide a boat loaded with evacuees and the citizens who had rescued them.
Photographers have been working in steady rain in waist- and chest-high water, so condensation in cameras is a problem. Kalifa says he’s been using aquatech covers over his cameras. “Sometimes you can’t see what you’re getting, but it’s a better solution than ruining your gear.”
Photographers PDN spoke to say they want to continue covering the response to the storm. “By far the vast majority of help is coming from volunteers,” Wilking says. Kalifa says, “The human capacity to help others is as extraordinary as the devastation.”
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