Dealing with the abundance of misery and tragedy: That was the most difficult part of covering the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan, AP's Robert Tanner says.
Tanner, an AP national writer, spent two weeks surveying the earthquake zone and comparing what he saw to the scene along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. He returned to New York this weekend and talked to asap about his what he went through during his assignment.
"It's hard to go and see the huge levels of personal destruction in these people's lives -- the bodies and the injuries they've sustained -- and then just come back to our existence," he says
Tanner, who also covered the aftermath of Katrina, found parallels between what he saw in New Orleans and in the villages and cities of Pakistan. The 7.6-magnitude temblor killed about 80,000 people, and the U.N. has warned that thousands more could die without adequate aid.
"In any disaster where homes and communities are destroyed and people's lives are taken apart, you see the same elements of misery, homelessness, need and despair," said Tanner, who made a daily call to asap during his time in Pakistan to share his observations.
As a reporter, he says, it's his job to tell meaningful and personal stories in a fair and accurate manner, while also trying to capture people's emotions and the drama in their lives.
Tanner talked about a family he and AP photographer David Longstreath spent a day and night with in a village that had been affected by the earthquake. The family insisted on serving their guests what little food they had. Tanner could see their meager supplies: a couple of chickens, a few goats and two water buffalos for milk.
"Here was this family that was clearly living on the edge of a mountain -- their homes were destroyed -- yet, they made us rice and chicken and tea with milk and shared all this food with us.
"We said no, but they refused to accept it."
For Tanner and Longstreath to refuse, their translator said, would be an insult.
After the meal, they returned to their car to bring the family as much food as they would accept; the next day, they bought a week's worth of rice and beans and delivered them to the family.
"That felt good to help somebody," says Tanner. "But I mean, one family among how many hundreds of thousands?
"It's a personal gesture but it's not helping in any real sort of way."