Philadelphia’s week in pictures: June 24, 2019

Every Monday, we present a gallery of pictures of the week just passed, taken by our staff photojournalists — and tell you the story behind one of them. This week Elizabeth Robertson talks about covering the flooding in New Jersey.

A man in a home on High St. waits for rescuers to come back for him after overnight thunderstorms flooded much of Westville on June 20, 2019.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
A man in a home on High St. waits for rescuers to come back for him after overnight thunderstorms flooded much of Westville on June 20, 2019.

As storms moved through the region last Wednesday night, Inquirer staff photographer Liz Robertson was out trying to make a lightning photo. Watching her weather apps My Lightning Tracker Pro and NOAA Radar Plus she could see that South Jersey especially was getting a lot of rain. “There were two cells that seemed to just rotate over the same area,” she noticed. There was some lightning, “but it was the cloud-to-cloud type which is harder to make a picture of.” So she went to bed.

Waking up around 3:30 a.m. to news emails on her phone reporting flooding and road closures in both Gloucester and Burlington Counties, she switched to the 5-0 Radio Police Scanner app and heard about what seemed to be significant areas of flooding in West Deptford and Westville - the same areas she’d noticed earlier in the evening getting all the rain. She threw on light clothes and sneakers that dry quickly and took off.

In Westville she found where the main street was blocked, then turned around to park a few blocks away. She always parks away from the action and walks closer - whether it is a fire or crime scene, or flooding - to keep her car safe and because she doesn’t “want to get in the way of the first responders.” Robertson grabbed a headlamp she keeps in her car that she wears around her neck (to see, and be seen - it was still dark out) and her cameras along with a 300mm f/2.8 lens and a monopod. Not only does the monopod steady her low light exposures, but she always takes it with her when covering flooding. “I use it like a walking stick, since you can’t see your next step, you can check the depth of the water first with the monopod.”

Robertson made her first photos around 5 a.m. finding a safe place to work from on the steps of a church completely surrounded by water (an awning also offered her some protection when it started raining again). From there she contacted early morning editors at the paper’s website, and sent photos using her camera’s wifi and her phone.

As daylight arrived so did more emergency crews to help with the evacuations and Robertson continued to make photos, before getting a ride back to her car from someone in a large sea-worthy truck. While editing photos on her laptop she felt itchy inside her shirt, and looked down to see a big black waterbug. Doing “everything I could to not freak out,” she just stood up shook out her clothes and “smiled at some rescue folks near me.” Then she sat back down and sent few more photos, before heading home to shower, “and get the rest of the bugs out.”

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>> SEE MORE: Last week’s staff photo gallery (June 17, 2019) and the staff photography page