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Horror brought home as TV news delivers Haiti coverage

In the Petionville neighborhood, residents look for lost

In the Petionville neighborhood, residents look for lost family in the rubble of earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince. (January 14, 2010) Photo Credit: MCT/Carolyn Cole

If any individual story set the tone - and established a threshold of horror - for TV's coverage of the Haitian disaster, it may have been one by CNN's Ivan Watson Thursday afternoon.

Reporting the rescue effort of an 11-year-old girl trapped in the rubble, her cries of agony clearly audible, he paused and suggested that even his own network might want to bail out at that point: A man had just pulled the body part of a person who was right next to the girl.

The girl was eventually rescued.

Over on Fox News, Steven Harrigan, a veteran war correspondent, was overcome with emotion while witnessing a shattered family looking for the remains of four dead children.

"The scale of the suffering, which is almost unimaginable, and the horror, has resonated" with both viewers and reporters, said Tony Maddox, a CNN executive vice president who oversees the network's international newsgathering.

After initial setbacks - airport logjams, coping with devastation of Haiti's infrastructure, establishing satellite links - every network was fully in place Thursday, and for millions of viewers, a picture took shape on their TV screen that was difficult, if not impossible to look at.

Along with people, each network has shipped in food, medical supplies, and generators. Satellite phones are used to communicate with network bosses back in New York, although those links are spotty at best. One key tool of choice for reporters and anchors is the so-called BGANs, Broadband Global Area Network, a laptop-sized device reliant (in part) on network connections to get pictures. (Network execs say they've been reliable.)

With one exception, the major network anchors had arrived overnight Wednesday. Diane Sawyer was in Afghanistan when the quake struck, and scheduled to fly back to New York Wednesday. She instead headed to Haiti, where she anchored an expanded edition of "World News" last night.

Kate O'Brian, ABC News senior vice president, said, "The immediate story for us is this race against time - how fast can folks be rescued before time runs out, and then it becomes a question of covering health and safety."

In other words, the horror on your screens is just beginning.

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