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The Agony of Surviving- Travis Fox -Washington Post

From Travis Fox

I was standing on a mound of debris more than a dozen stories high. Behind me was half a mountain, its face brown because a landslide slivered off the other half. In front of me was the ruined town of Beichuan, China, where not a single building remained standing. And under my feet was a mixture of dirt from the landslide, stones from the buildings, and dead bodies.

It had been several days after the earthquake that I arrived in Beichuan, but the scene was like nothing that I’ve seen before. In Aceh, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, I saw absolute destruction after the tsunami. And there were plenty of dead bodies littering the ground of Iraq during the invasion. What made this story different was the access we had, not only to the ravaged areas like Beichuan, but to the agony of the survivors.

I used “The Agony of Surviving” as the title of my video from Beichuan that day. It seemed like an apt description of the women that I ran into on top of the mound of debris. It was a frightening scene. She was digging with her bare hands, trying to find the remains of her daughter. Her screams echoed across the flattened town. At the time, I was too preoccupied with making sure my camera was functioning properly to fully grasp what was unfolding in front of me. Only later, translating the footage and watching it over and over, trying to transcribe quotes like “Mommy is here to pick you up,” did the pain fully hit me.

I was surprised at how articulate the Sichuanese were in describing their pain. Many of the victims were poor, some illiterate, but nearly everyone I spoke with was able to express himself or herself well. Believe it or not, this is one of the most difficult parts of being a videojournalist. Often people just don’t have anything to say. I remember riding in a rickety bus with a group of Afghans who were returning home to their village after a 20-year exile in Pakistan. When we arrived, I asked… What else?.. “How do you feel.” No matter how many different ways I phrased it, the answer was always, “We are fine.”

Li Shan Fu’s expressions were almost poetic. He lost his only daughter when her school collapsed in the town of Juyuan. Li’s wife saw their daughter pulled from the rubble, but since then theye weren’t able to locate her. Li spoke about being so sad that his legs barely functioned during his 10 day-long search for his daughter. He allowed us to be there when he reviewed pictures of dead children. His expressions told us everything about what he was going through. His legs no longer supported him.

Posted by: B Foster