I saw a man’s body dangling from a jumble of uprooted trees on the beach of Khao Lak, Thailand. A trunk was wedged under his shoulders and his arms were spread across it. He looked as if he’d been crucified.
It seemed extraordinarily emblematic of the suffering that had engulfed the coastline not just of Thailand, but many other countries, too.
AP video editor
The image that stuck with me most was the mass grave in Aceh, Indonesia. Bodies littered the street, stuck on tall trees. Some were eaten by dogs. No matter how hard the officials worked, there were just too many bodies. There was only one helpless excavator, which couldn’t keep up with the flow. This left the bodies piled up untouched for days, maybe even weeks.
Seeing hundreds of dead bodies every day just made me appreciate life more, the air that I breathe and also the sun that I always complain about because it’s too hot here where I live. That assignment brought me back to the reality that I have everything I need.…After that assignment, everything looked so precious.
Photographer for AP
As my car drove down towards Khao Lak, Thailand, I stared out of the window. This normally dreamy beach of white sand and saggy coconut trees was lined with coloured debris as far as my eyes could see. Such a colourful mess, I thought.
Our driver slowed the car, seeming to realise as I was, that this colour was not garbage or wreckage, but bodies. The bodies of tourists, wrapped in the festive colours anyone might wear to a beach holiday. Bright yellows and deep reds, swimsuits and sundresses.
The silence was deafening. No other living soul was near us.
That image, and the shocking moment I realised the scale of the catastrophe, has never left me.
I came across a small group of survivors (in the then Tamil Tiger-held area in northern Sri Lanka). There was no food. Everyone was starving. We came with nothing to offer.
Later that day, volunteers delivered some bread to the suffering group by truck. I saw a boy holding his father’s hand as he tearfully bit into a piece of bread, his first food in who knows how long.
I have often thought of this boy and the other children I met there, and how strong they had to be to survive.
I accompanied a body collecting team as it plumbed wrecked villages in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Once their rickety van was filled with bodies, it would dart across the city to a mass grave, siren wailing. I rode beside the driver…. What moved me were the sights of people along the street as the van drove by with a smell so strong there could be no doubt about what it contained.
Most people turned their backs and walked briskly away. Some did not, including a despondent, unkempt man who looked like a father, and a downcast woman with a child. They covered their noses like everyone else, but examined our passing van as if whoever they were looking for might be inside. Their eyes stayed fixed on the van until it vanished from sight.
Chief correspondent, AP, the Philippines
The Khao Lak beach in Thailand looked like it had been carpet-bombed. As I walked around taking pictures, I would find body parts, pieces of clothes and luggage in trees — and silence. The silence is something I’ll never forget.
At the fishing harbour in Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam, a three-storeyed building had a trawler on its roof.
Clothes donated from across the country had made a hillock in front of the district collector’s office. On closer examination, they turned out to be blankets, mostly. Blankets for people in sub-tropical Tamil Nadu! But the intention was well-meaning.
These two images have stayed with me.
Standing among the tsunami’s victims at Galle in Sri Lanka, I received some news that made me want to celebrate. This was the awful dissonance of the Indian Ocean catastrophe, which strained the imaginations of many of those who witnessed its power, in the moment and in the aftermath.
This time, it was difficult to focus on the job. My brother had been vacationing in the Maldives, a low-lying archipelago that was hit by the tsunami. My family had lost contact with him.
In those early hours, worried about my brother, I drove to the devastated Galle. At the hospital entrance, a tractor arrived with bodies piled on a cart.
Hundreds lay in rows, swelled up but mostly without visible injury. Sometimes, I studied them. Sometimes,
I averted my eyes. From one angle, they didn’t seem so distant from life; from another, they were alien and remote.
I felt shame, fascination, pity and disconnection. An awful dissonance.
Then came a text message. My brother was safe. I paused among the dead, quietly elated. Nearby, townspeople searched for missing relatives, scanning the rows of faces on the ground.
Bureau chief, AP, southern Africa
- The Telegraph, Calcutta