Journalists, more often than not, are among the first to respond to distress calls and to arrive in disaster areas by reason and force of their trade.
Many have developed the kind of distance needed to objectively report on breaking incidents, some of them very traumatic events.
On Saturday, however, some of the reporters became the reported as floods inundated villages and city streets in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in northern Mindanao for more than 24 hours over the weekend.
Two journalists, in fact, perished in the tragedy.
Some members of the media also lost their belongings, their houses and, some, relatives.
Photojournalist Erwin Mascariñas was wearing an oversized t-shirt given to him by a colleague when chanced upon by George Cariño of ABS-CBNNews. He was busy cleaning up the office of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) safety office in the village of Nazareth, one of the flooded areas in the city that was lucky enough to be spared the wrath of destruction.
He said he lost all his clothes in the flood.
Mindanews’ Carolyn Arquillas was heavily quoted and referred to by the media for her report of bodies of victims in the flashflood that were brought to the city’s landfill upon orders of city officials.
A freelance TV reporter said he has not gone home yet, three days after the flood, but is still in the field covering the tragedy. He said he lost most of his and his family’s belongings to the floods.
dxRJ’s Michel Kundiman and RMN’s Leonisid Alsonado, however, were among those who did not survive the disaster and joined the 1,000 or so who were killed in the worst weather-related disaster in Mindanao in over 20 years.
Several media group have already launched fund raising drives to help journalists who lost properties and relatives during the height of Tropical Storm Sendong (international name Washi).
NUJP, the largest organization of journalists in the Philippines, for the first time is soliciting cash donations and relief goods for member and non-member journalists who were affected by the floods. Fortunately, many have responded, including Filipino journalists from as far as Canada where NUJP has a fledging chapter.
Major news networks, however, did not launch marathon coverage until it became clear Sendong was already shaping up as this year’s worst weather-related disaster. In fact, Sendong, which had already left the country, is now among the Top 10 most destructive tropical storms to hit the Philippines in 20 years. And the number of deaths brought by the typhoon is still rising
Sendong unleashed torrential rains as it crossed northern Mindanao bringing in rushing water and debris. It poured 180 millimeters of water in less than four hours causing flash floods. More than 20,000 families were affected.
Disease and hunger lurk in the evacuation centers where an estimated 40,000 evacuees are now sheltered. Most of them will likely not be allowed to go back to their lost homes.
For journalists in the heavily affected areas, not only are some of them coping up with the loss of their properties and personal belongings, they will have to contend with the psychological trauma of covering the tragedy, long after the floods have subsided.