After Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire erupted June 3, sending a fast-moving flow of superheated ash, rock and debris into villages, AP staffers sprang into action. Over the next week, they worked around the clock in difficult and often-perilous conditions to produce all-formats dispatches from the scene and from shelters and funerals. They told the stories of people who had lost dozens of family members in the explosion, authorities’ search for survivors and victims, and relatives’ own return to homes buried up to the rooftops in ash to dig, in many cases with their own hands.
For scoring numerous exclusives that included highly detailed drone video of the disaster and spectacular photos and video, Guatemala-based journalist Sonia Perez, Mexico City-based reporter Mark Stevenson, Bogota camera operator Marko Alvarez, Guatemala photographer Moises Castillo and Peru-based senior photographer Rodrigo Abd have earned the Beat of the Week.
Once a lush green area, the eruption scene became a moonscape of ash, rock and debris. The journalists faced dangers as steam and smoke rose from holes in the terrain, a sign of superheated temperatures remaining below the crust. Continuing activity periodically sent dangerous flows down the volcano’s slopes, prompting multiple suspensions of search efforts and evacuations of the area.
At least 110 people have died in the disaster, and another 200 are listed as missing after nearly two weeks.
Visiting homes buried in ash, AP’s team told the stories of entire families who died or disappeared and of grieving residents left to start over with nothing. The journalists examined why the destroyed village of San Miguel Los Lotes was ever built in the first place, in the path of a gully that channeled the volcano's deadly flows in its direction.
They also looked at another volcano nearby that had been oozing lava the same week – where residents say they are aware of the danger but are unwilling to go elsewhere because the economic lifeblood of the town involves guiding tourists up to see the molten rock.
The AP held the No. 1 spot for video usage by clients throughout the coverage.
Perez used her contacts to secure exclusive access to a makeshift morgue in a warehouse in the city of Escuintla, where AP journalists were the only ones allowed to witness the work of forensic experts as they catalogued and performed autopsies on the charred bodies.
Every day the AP held the No. 1 spot for video usage by clients, and on most days most of the top 10 slots. The AP moved video on the first day four full hours ahead of Reuters, and was the first to send aerial video. We also established the first live shot and maintained it daily throughout the coverage, including exclusive live images of families digging through the ash. Further, AP staffers secured before-and-after satellite photos of two places overrun by the disaster. Reinforcing the video team was stringer Sergio Alfaro.
Stringer photographer Luis Soto was first on the scene for AP and stayed throughout. He was quickly joined by Castillo and Abd, as well as fellow stringers Oliver de Ros and Santiago Billy. To date, photo downloads stand at 7,100 – well above the numbers for a typical top story over the course of a week. Total client usage of video for the week was an amazing 12,124. Text stories also received wide use, including by major newspapers such as the Washington Post.
For their impressive efforts, Perez, Stevenson, Alvarez, Castillo, Abd and Soto share this week’s Beat of the Week award.