Anderson Cooper shot to TV anchor super-stardom during Hurricane Katrina, so perhaps it was no surprise that he was the first American TV journalist on the ground in Haiti Wednesday morning. The disaster coverage veteran spoke to the Huffington Post Thursday by phone from Port-Au-Prince, and described the devastation surrounding him.
"It's certainly among the worst that a lot of us have seen," Cooper said, describing bodies piling up in the city. "Today I ran into a family who was carrying a casket through the streets and taking their daughter to the cemetery so I ended up just going with them to the cemetery. It's hard to describe what's going on in the cemetery in Port-Au-Prince. There are literally just bodies piled up. For people who can't afford a casket they're just dumped into crypts that have been previously occupied. They're dumping multiple bodies into one crypt and then just sealing it up. It's truly a pretty horrific situation."
Cooper said that while he feels "privileged" to be in Haiti — "There's something extraordinary happening here, something truly horrific, and I think it's important that people know what's happening here" — there are frustrating limits to what a TV camera can capture.
"The thing that's difficult about this is that the camera lens is too small to capture what is really happening here," he said. "It's too small to capture the scale, the size, the horror of what's happening here. It's a very tiny little camera lens, and no matter where you point it something is happening."
Cooper — who is traveling around the city unescorted by security — said he and his team figured out a way to get a vehicle upon arriving Wednesday morning, and have spent the last two days driving around Port-Au-Prince shooting stories. He described the Haitian people as strong but growing desperate.
"I think early on in a situation like this people are shocked and are just trying to figure out what comes next, and figure out how they can try to rescue their neighbors or rescue their loved ones," he said. "People are still digging for rubble on virtually every street in downtown Port-Au-Prince trying to find their friends or their neighbors or their family members. There is an increasing level of anger you hear from people in the streets, asking where's the relief, and what can we do for them and what are you doing. But that's completely natural and understandable.
"I'm continually impressed by how strong the people in this city are. They've lived through dictators and military dictators and thugs who are rulers and inefficient governments and they've lived through corruption and all sorts of things which are hard to imagine and now to have this to deal with this -- and find a way to continue moving forward. This place continues to evolve and move forward. Last night I was thinking, well how are they going to deal with all these bodies? What are they going to do with all these bodies? Today you see more and more people just getting wheelbarrows and putting the bodies in the wheelbarrows and carting them off to cemeteries. They're reusing crypts. Haitians find a way to survive. This is a huge challenge and a lot of them may not survive in this case, but this country moves forward and they find solutions and they find a way to survive and to thrive and to live. I keep thinking about that as I see all this devastation around me."
Cooper said that the Haitians don't expect help from their own government, having learned from "decades of government corruption and incompetence and just outright stealing by a variety of leaders in this country" not to rely on the central government.
"There's certainly a lot of anger about that, but people do look to the US and the UN and there's certainly going to be doing that increasingly in the coming days," he said.
Personally, he said it was "really difficult" to see a "remarkable city like Port-Au-Prince" — one he's visited both personally and professionally over the years — "on its knees like this."
He had not heard about Pat Robertson's remark that Haiti was "cursed" by a "pact to the devil" and said no one he had spoken to on the ground had heard of it either.
"To be honest, right now that sounds like it's coming from another planet," he said. "I think people here would probably appreciate if Mr. Robertson maybe came down and lent a hand."