On Aug. 29, Reuters photographer Shailesh Andrade rode his motorcycle into Mumbai, where a surging, deadly monsoon was flooding large swaths of the city.
Andrade had already snapped pictures of flooded main roads near his home where otherwise-invincible public buses were stalled in the rising tide.
After ditching his bike amid the storm surge, Andrade went on foot, a perilous situation in a storm that not only paralyzed Mumbai, India’s financial capital and cramped home to 18 million people, but killed more than 14 people.
“I was wading through waist-deep waters for over nine hours to get pictures,” Andrade said.
He was among a group of Reuters journalists who, caught in the monsoon, filed words and images – from flooded rail tracks to animals seeking shelter – that told the story of the day’s disaster in any way they could.
Those Reuters journalists used WhatsApp to send reports of the chaos unfolding in the streets to colleagues writing the story from the bureau. Using the app instead of email allows for high-volume, instant group communication in a breaking news situation. It has now become something we do often to focus conversations in real-time, and, in this case, allow more than 50 journalists to stay in constant contact with each other.
In the Mumbai bureau, writers Swati Bhat and Rajendra Jadhav wrote fast updates to the main story from the bureau built off the WhatsApp messages. One reporter, Promit Mukherjee, sent updates from his car during a seven-hour drive from the office.
Later, colleagues in the New Delhi bureau stepped in to help write the story, allowing the Mumbai team to focus on newsgathering and put in calls to police and emergency services.
Amidst it all, Andrade found himself in a few dodgy spots, especially as water levels rose suddenly and swiftly. He edged forward slowly, equipment held above his head, ever-cautious about open manholes.
“The covers blow off when the sea comes in,” he said.
Andrade’s day officially ended after an 8-km (5 miles) walk back to his home. But, a few hours later, he was heading to the airport for a 1:30 a.m. rescue of Danish Siddiqui, a fellow photographer who was stranded after flying in from Delhi to cover the floods.