REPORTING AT GROUND ZERO

 The task of reporting from amid the devastation of "Ground Zero" was described by journalists who finally made it to New York as the most harrowing story they had covered.

While work went on to shift the ruined remains of the World Trade Center, the reporters who were first there also worked round the clock waiting for back-up teams held back as US airspace remained closed.

Emma Hurd, Sky News US correspondent, and cameraman Mick Deane went 44 hours without sleep travelling from Washington and keeping the news network’s London headquarters supplied with live feeds.

"We’ve been able to grab a couple of hours sleep in the car in the past couple of days, because back-up has arrived, but even now we’ve had no longer than four hours at a time," she said on Tuesday.

ITN’s senior foreign correspondent, Mark Austin, described as "unbelievable" the scenes he encountered when he arrived at Ground Zero.

"I’ve been trying to convey the scale of it, to show that three square miles of lower Manhattan is now just rubble.

"We managed to get in through the security with a small camera and get right through to the smouldering mountain that was once the World Trade Center. That’s when it really hits you, that you are walking through the business district of Manhattan and it’s carnage; the damage is appalling.

"It’s unbelievable to see hundreds of police, FBI and state troopers on the streets of New York – it is an apocalyptic scene."

The devastation in the area – and the intense security – has also created practical problems for journalists. "Once you get into a secure area you can’t get out, and there’s no food and no toilets," said Hurd. "But the mood among the media has been great. Everyone’s competing on one level, but they’ve also been helping each other, so people have been really cooperating over things like getting satellite space and if someone gets a delivery of food or drinks they are sharing it.

"The secure zone was so far back, there was no way you could get a vehicle anywhere near it, so you had to walk about two miles to get in and two miles to get out. To get to Wall Street we had to walk around the site, which was two miles, and then back another two miles, so we walked about eight miles in one day with all the equipment," she said.

ITN’s reporter for 5 News, Ben Ando, said he had been trying to convey to viewers that the scenes of chaos and destruction were once a "smart and hip" part of the city "with loft apartments and cafes in the middle of an affluent business district".

"It’s still so difficult to believe the World Trade Center has gone, those towers have been a fundamental part of the skyline for so long," said Ando.

"Everywhere you go you see those silhouettes – they have them at McDonalds – and the souvenir shops are still full of t-shirts and key rings with that image on them. They are constant reminders that the skyline has been changed forever."

James Mates, ITN’s Washington correspondent said he, like others, was still trying to come to terms with what had gone on: "You can’t get emotional, there’s always another deadline to meet and you can’t let yourself think about it too hard, I’ve been too busy to think about what’s happened, but you also have to try to convey the extraordinary emotion of the people in New York."

The sight of people waiting desperately for news of their loved ones and the ad hoc shrines that have grown up around the mass of photocopied photographs pinned up by relatives were described by journalists as the most moving scenes they encountered.

"I was one of the first at Lockerbie and at Dunblane, and I’ve covered atrocities in Northern Ireland and I like to think I’m fairly thick skinned," said Kevin Murphy of IRN.

 

"But there was a tear in my eye when I saw the faces of all those people looking out from the posters. People are clinging onto the hope that they will be found, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that they won’t."

ITN correspondent Andrea Catherwood, who flew out with her colleagues from ITN after a three-day wait at Stansted Airport, was given the assignment of reporting on the grieving families: "All the posters with the faces of the missing give details about what people were wearing, their tattoos and scars, in the hope that they may be in hospital. The terrible thing is that they will now be used as they try to identify the bodies," she said.

"It’s not an easy story to do, but people really want to talk, to express themselves, desperately hoping they will find their loved ones. It seems so far-fetched, but people are still clinging to that hope. Twice as many people died here as they did in Pearl Harbor. America is trying to come to terms with its grief."

 

By Julie Tomlin

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