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Old Jun 3, 2011, 10:54 PM   #1
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Default Tornado Aftermath...

Hi everyone. I am posting my experience and photos that I took yesterday. I have never done journalistic photography like this before... I just picked up my first dslr last November.

These were taken about 12 hours after the tornadoes hit. These photos are in Springfield and West Springfield Ma. I live in Westfield Ma where the first tornado touched down about 1/4 mile from my house. It's the first actual tornado that caused destruction here in Western Ma in decades...

I had mostly positive reactions from people in the area; from police, dpw workers, residents, etc.. commenting on my presence taking photographs. Lots of people would direct my attention to places that were the most photo worthy, and workers seemed to not be bother by me taking pictures of them. I was extremely respectful of peoples space, emergency vehicles passing by, and did whatever the police told me to do. Some police let me cross the caution tape, others did not. Some realized that I was not there just to "gawk", but to document the destruction in a journalistic way. Some police were complete dicks and treated me and others like we were terrible people for being in the area. I saw at least 15 different TV news outlets scattered around the city, and I saw a few other photographers.

I will say this though: There were masses of people who were there acting like tourists at a theme park. Families were walking down the streets to see the destruction, children were laughing and playing on the downed trees, adults were having beers and joking around in peoples yards. I can only describe it as "disgusting". Very few residents were helping with the cleanup. One public city worker helping with the cleanup described it to me like this: (I paraphrase) "I know most of the homes in this area are multi-family and there are a lot of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds living here, but I am absolutely disgusted at the residents of this area. No body wants to help, and everybody is just sitting back and waiting for somebody to come to their homes and clean up their yards and homes. It's like they are waiting and expecting others to do their cleanup for them." To be honest the guy was right. The way a lot of the residents were acting really surprised me.


Anyways... Here are some of the pictures I took yesterday.

Here is the complete set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ewheele...7626879007818/

Feel free to comment on the photos or my comments above.

IMG_7232_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7115_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7134_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7206_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7085_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7219_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7238_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7266_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

Here is the complete set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ewheele...7626879007818/

Feel free to comment on the photos or my comments above.
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Old Jun 4, 2011, 4:49 AM   #2
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This shows the power of nature and how we come together to help after the event nicely done
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Old Jun 7, 2011, 5:55 PM   #3
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Here is my take on this magnitude of destruction; yes, sometimes it is the 'waiting for someone else to do the work...however, it is also the shock of having seen your home destroyed, your previous living area gone. It is also not knowing IF you will be allowed back in, especially if you were told once to stay away. Nor knowing it is 'worth' going back for...yes, I said worth going back for. If you are told you are under-insured, the government is NOT going to help, and you are SOL...well, I may look at it...look into my heart and say I want nothing of this, either.
Also, think about all those sightseers there watching you go through one of your most painful moments. Then the news crews? Every moment you do something someone may come up to you and say 'hey, what did you find, anything of value?'
I went through a house fire...totally gutted and even though it was but one house on the block...the whole hassle of dealing with the city, neighbors, looters, etc., let alone the shock and loss...didn't make it any easier to be there. This was my family home and I was a teenager. Now, imagine thousands of homes, kids, teens, and families going through this...seeing this on tv and such. Seeing their tragedy displayed on Tv like some reality program they did not sign up for.
I have great empathy for these people.
I, too, would wait until I saw someone with big machinery come to my area. Picking through the rubble with treezers is what it will be like.

Last edited by lisalonewolf; Jun 7, 2011 at 6:01 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old Jun 7, 2011, 7:39 PM   #4
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The images you posted on here were very well done. I am a volunteer fire and rescue photographer as well as a newspaper photographer and your images are very well done and they kind of images I would be looking to capture. By the way the guy who is the white helmet MA1TF is from the Mass. USAR Team Taskforce (Urban Search and Rescue) of which their are 27 teams in the US that handle the worst of the worst. Those USR guys do one hell of job to say the least. If you get the chance to ever follow them around and take mor epictures they do some amazing things including large area search and rescue etc. They usually clear house (make sure no one is in side or berried etc and do rescue people who are trapped.

keep up the good work. Nice selection of images.......

dave

Last edited by Photo 5; Jun 7, 2011 at 7:42 PM.
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Old Jun 7, 2011, 9:30 PM   #5
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I followed a group of about 8 people from the MA1TF, Police, FEMA, a search and rescue dog team, and a few firefighters doing door to door house "clearing". I was only with them for about an hour, but it was surreal watching them struggle through the rubble to get to a back door of a home that no one was responding to from inside. Freaky experience to say the least. They were nice about my presence and even asked me a few questions and vice-versa, although I was sure to keep my respectful distance as to not get their way.

I appreciate the kind words about the photos.

As I said in my OP, this was the first time I had done any type of "street photography", and certainly my first disaster. Is it wrong to say that I enjoyed the experience? If a job exists being a "Search and rescue photographer" I think that's my new dream job.

IMG_7247_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7274_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7063_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7075_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7079_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr

IMG_7241_edited by ewheeler20, on Flickr
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Old Jun 7, 2011, 9:38 PM   #6
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Lisa, I understand your point of view and the shock that many of the residents may have been going through... but I (as were others who I talked to) witnessed many many families sitting on their front porch having a beer or grilling food having a grand ole' time laughing and just "people watching", while their homes were partly destroyed or a tree laying on their roof, or a smashed car laying in their yard, or the chimney in ruins on their driveway. They were just literally waiting for somebody to pick up for them.

Now i am not saying that everyone in that area were doing that, but a very large chunk of them were, enough to notice the trend. It's possible that because 95% of the homes in the area that I was photographing were 3-4 family low income rental properties, the renters thought that it was the owner's responsibility to take care of the damage? I don't know... but even if that were the case, you'd think that human nature of wanting to help others (I am assuming that is a natural feeling?) would take over and people would be pitching in and helping themselves and others.

Just my two cents. I appreciate everyone's comments.
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Old Jun 7, 2011, 10:55 PM   #7
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A couple of suggestions for search and rescue and fire-rescue photography. When you are taking storm da,age/recovery/disaster photography photos an important thing to do is to make sure you document the series in such a way that you keep track either via a pad and pencil where the photos are taken or take pictures of street signs, mailboxes etc to establish the house locations in your photos. At least try to get the street name when possible. getting an adress may npot be possible in some cases

This may seem very easy and not worth doing (may be easy in one or two block area) but in your case and the case of Joplin Missouri where its measured in square miles or many many blocks you need a system to keep track of things that way if you need to go back and reference or check on something you know where to look. Take street signs if they are still up, mailboxes for house numbers etc. You may not save those images but use them to tag your images when you upload them.

Another tip and a good way to make friends with the police and FEMA is to offer to give them a disc of all your photos. They may allow you more access or not push you back so far if they know your trying to help. Make sure you get an address to take the disc to and give it to them as soon after you finish shooting as you can (so they are still at that location) or ask them where to mail it to or put them all up in gallery on line and e-mail the commander the link to the web gallery.

many times when I shoot something big I will burn a disc off and take it to the local sheriff's office or give it to the fire chief. Its a good way to make instant friends.

Also it goes without saying you can never be fully prepared for a tornado, but I always try to keep my gear ready at all times. You never ever know when that next big fire or car crash will happen. I try to keep all my batteriees as charged as I can and recharge them at least once every two weeks. Keep the memory cards empty unless I am shooting and have my camera and batteries packed in my car with my fire gear unless it is being used to shoot or upload images to my computer.

dave
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Old Jun 8, 2011, 12:55 PM   #8
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Agreed EW that some were probably waiting for their landlord to do something. And I also agree that my natural instinct would be to help out...not BBQ, drink beer is another story at that time. I know people act strangely for different reasons, strangely from our own standpoint. Then, again, once you do all you can there is a point of saturation and blowing off steam. Making the most of what you got left.
It also depends on 'what can I do now with what I have'...if you feel down on the bottom of the list of those helped you don't feel like doing much. Seen that at work. There IS a social hierarchy and it does affect how people react, feel about themselves and their community.

Dave has very good ideas about getting copies to the local authorities...You have some great shots...another thing to use, if your camera does it, is use the gps thing on it. Also leave your information, never know they may call on your on the next one.
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Old Jun 8, 2011, 1:25 PM   #9
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Insurance companies may send photographers to document damage in these situations, as well. Local agents might like to have (ie-pay for) photos of property they cover. Homeowners themselves in some cases will need this kind of documentation.
Unfortunately for me, my instincts are not those of a journalist. When we had major flooding in my area, after taking care of my own property, my next step was to help out the neighbors. By the time I got back to my camera, there were thousands of photos already taken.
Sometimes, people will wait for the OK of the insurer before they start cleanup and repairs, because if you fix it before the ins. co. sees it, you will have a hard time making a claim. When there is so much damage, it takes time for this to occur. As someone who has worked with his hands all his life, I have come to realize that many people don't have these skills. Knowing what needs doing first, and having the tools, materials and abilities to get started, doesn't come naturally to most people. And, as Lisa mentioned, the shock of seeing what you have built up, wiped away in instants, can make a person pretty numb for a while.

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