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Posts Tagged ‘Venezuela mudslides’

This will be a long post about storytelling in journalism. It starts with a story I wrote in 2000 that was never published. This was from a trip I made to Venezuela as a reporter for the Des Moines Register. In this version, I identify the Venezuelans I interviewed only by their first names. I used their full names in the version I submitted for publication then, but I don’t feel comfortable using their names a decade-plus later (though some are identified in the published story linked below). Other editing of my original draft is minor. I’ll discuss some current issues relating to storytelling in journalism after I finally publish this story.

Blanquita de Perez, Venezuela — Like the houses and buses and mountainsides, the language barrier stood no chance against La Tragedia.

Even a journalist who needed a Spanish-English dictionary to look up his own trade (periodista) could understand the stories I heard as Ramon took photographer Gary Fandel and me walking through this village on the edge of the devastated seaside resort of La Guaira on a Thursday morning in February.

No interpreter was available, but the wide swaths of mud and boulders we had seen on the bus ride along the coast beckoned. We needed a close look at this carnage, known here simply as La Tragedia, The Tragedy. (more…)

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Update: Maya Esther is in the United States. Read the update.

A journalist gets an unusual perspective on disaster stories.

Chances are you remember the Oklahoma City bombing from the horrific television images of the demolished building or the heart-rending photograph of a firefighter carrying a dead baby from the building. I remember the bombing from the grit in the air I could feel and taste covering the aftermath in downtown Oklahoma City.

You may have forgotten about the catastrophic mudslides that hit Venezuela in 1999. I will never forget walking with a woman on a devastated mountainside as she pointed at homes where she and relatives once lived. “Es mi casa,” she said, gesturing to some rubble, part of it recognizable as the top of a wall, the rest of her home swept away or buried in mud hardened like concrete. Another woman recalled that horrible night, gesturing downward with her arm, talking about the terror that came rushing down the mountainside, repeating, “cadave” — corpses sliding down in a torrent of mud.

My role as editor of The Gazette during the 2008 flood has received plenty of attention, so I won’t belabor it here. And I recently recalled my role covering the 9/11 attack from a distance. In a career that started in the 1970s, I have covered dozens of tornadoes, floods and other disasters as a reporter and editor. The stories are emotional. You can’t help but feel the human impact, sharing joy and heartbreak with people you interview. But you develop a sort of professional shell that helps you function and keeps you from feeling too deeply.

This week I learned a bit of what it’s like to be one of those people I used to cover, waiting anxiously to learn whether a loved one had survived, trying to bring her to safety. (more…)

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