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Eyewitness to Haiyan: A photographer's story

Photojournalist Bullit Marquez was standing by in Manila waiting to find out whether Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, would strike the Philippines.

Marquez’s job leads him into situations that most people would flee. To get to Tacloban, a hard-hit city in the central Philippines, he boarded a military aircraft and began shooting Saturday, a day after the typhoon tore through the region.

“You get overwhelmed by the devastation,” he said. “It’s very hard not to get overcome by emotion.”

The Associated Press photographer spoke with CNN via satellite phone from Tacloban. By 9 a.m. Tuesday, he was among the press operating out of the local airport.

It’s a four-hour walk to travel from the airport to the city, where Marquez takes the majority of his photographs. The distance limits him to filing images to his editors about once a day after a journey back to the airport.

He carries only two camera bodies - one with a wide-angle lens and the other with a telephoto lens – as well as a bottle of water.

“The camera is OK; we have a raincoat for the camera,” he said. “Not necessarily for myself, but the camera is kept dry.”

He trudges through water all day wearing a bicycle helmet that keeps his head a little drier. And now, the small team of photographers he travels with is running out of food.

“Yesterday we were able to get an apple,” he said.

Mostly he and his colleagues hope for rice and canned meat such as sardines. And when he has something to give, he shares with disaster victims who ask him for help.

Marquez turned 58 on Tuesday, four days after the storm hit. Tuesday morning he had already given his “reserve biscuit” away to a child.

“They are never begging for money. They are begging for food and water,” he said. “I can always get something for myself.”

People also beg to use the satellite phone to contact relatives, he said. The most his colleagues can do is ask for their names and post them to social media websites.

In the first days, it wasn’t safe, he said. People broke locks off buildings to find food.

“What they do - I don’t know if you can call that looting; everyone is really hungry.”

Marquez said the Philippine air force has been generous to share a generator with him to charge his camera batteries and cell phones.

At night, the photographers sleep on the cement floors of what remains of the building. The roof was swept away by the storm surge.

“We’re sleeping on the debris,” he said.

But for Marquez, these aren’t the biggest challenges of photographing the aftermath of the storm.

“The biggest challenge for me is you have to create some sort of distance because you get overwhelmed right away.”

He’s covered devastation before, but this story is more difficult for Marquez because he’s Filipino. The severity of the situation sinks in during a lull in the shooting.

“I’m from this place,” he said. “The difference is that you have your emotions in it and sympathize with your own countrymen.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN

Related photos: The destruction of Typhoon Haiyan, Children among Typhoon Haiyan victims, Haiyan's wrath from above, Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts, Before and after the storm