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City Tech Professor Covers Nature’s Wrath in Haiti

Maisel (third from left, wearing denim jeans) and other photographers in Haiti.

“Smoke wafted through the streets as I drove with three other photographers through the crumbled alleys of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, on this the third day since the massive earthquake on Tuesday, January 12.”

So begins the account of Todd Maisel, an adjunct professor of advertising design and graphic arts at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), who was part of two teams in Haiti for the New York Daily News. He worked with a reporter during his one-week stay, arriving two days after the earthquake.

Following is a narrative written by Maisel, a resident of Marine Park, of his time in Port-Au-Prince:

Smoke wafted through the streets as I drove with three other photographers through the crumbled alleys of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, on this the third day since the massive earthquake on Tuesday,
January 12.

We came upon a secondary school and the smell of dead bodies – an odor bringing to mind spoiled pickle relish – filled the air. The bodies of young students and their teachers jutted visibly from openings in the building. They appeared to have been trying to escape the mayhem of the massive 7.3-magnitude earthquake.

Charlie Eckert of New York Newsday, freelancer Rob Stolarik and photographer Tequila Minsky and I climbed the hulk of clusters of crumbled concrete and took pictures. The further we climbed, the more bodies we found. They were arrayed among spiked rebar (steel rods used for reinforcing concrete), which in a cruel twist had caused concrete to turn to gravel.

It was yet another place where the dead remained in public view. Only hours before, I’d seen dozens of bodies with mothers clinging to their children, having died in a collapse of a large church where they were attending a funeral. They joined that loved one in a very sudden, terrifying death.

We drove further and found a major cultural and art center called Centre D’Art. The front of it was torn to the ground and a treasure trove of paintings, the heart of Haitian culture, hung on a precarious precipice. Art was low on the rescue list.

A few streets away, we came upon a group of trucks with Israeli flags on them and realized that members of the Israeli Defense Force and the Hatzalah ambulance paramedics had found a tax official clinging to life inside a corpse-filled assessment office. The squared courtyard edifice suffered a catastrophic collapse, causing office walls and furniture to tumble into the walled-in square and its outer walls to plunge into the street.

The Israelis had gathered at the top of the pile, working more than eight sweat-filled hours after having heard the garbled moans of Frantz Gilles, still in the rubble of what was his brightly lit downtown office. Photographers from the New York Post, Jerusalem Times and Israeli television began showing up. At first, the Israelis were not enthusiastic about their rescue being publicized because of mistrust of the media. But it became clear to them that Israelis can use all the good publicity they can get. They ended up letting us stand at the foot of the three-story fragile pile of office debris.

As we jockeyed for best view, the rescuers yanked the man, with an I.V. still in his arm, out of the rubble, his hand sticking up in the air briefly. Paramedics worked to stabilize him and the rescuers strapped him down for the tricky trek down the side of the field of debris. An ambulance waited outside the courtyard and the proud Israelis, all smiles from their many hours of toil, brought him into the street to the cheers and clapping of smiling Haitians. A woman raised her arms and prayed and howled “hallelujah.” Others rushed over to the ambulance, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the lone survivor of his office through the vehicle’s small windows.

So much horror and suffering for days and finally, someone comes out alive. I watched the Israeli soldiers and rescuers embracing each other, and I just broke down and cried.

* * *
Award-winning photographer Todd Maisel is currently vice president of the New York Press Photographers Association (NPPA). He is currently director of Region 2 NPPA. He has been a journalist since 1984, after graduating from New York University School of Journalism.

In 1998, he was named Photographer of the Year by NPPA, the first freelancer to be so honored. He has won numerous photography awards from that organization since then. He has been named “Spot News Photographer of the Year” (three times) by the New York Press Club.

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Editor’s Note: Photo credit for all photos accompanying this article: Todd Maisel/New York Daily News.

For information on the City Tech community’s response to the earthquake, go to:



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