Alumnus captures stories from the rubble

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Gino Canella works amid the rubble in Moore, Okla., following a massive tornado.

Gino Canella knew he would be seeing the worst of nature’s fury this summer.

He had signed on with The Weather Channel as a producer and videographer to document the work of a Lancaster, Pa., non-profit devoted to helping people clean up after a natural disaster.

That’s how he found himself in the rubble left after a massive tornado leveled parts of Moore, Okla., May 20, just days after completing his master of arts degree in media studies and production.

With forecasts calling for devastating storms, Canella flew out to Indianapolis May 18, where he met up with the crew from the First Response Team of America. Together, they drove to Kansas City the next day to await the unknown.

A relatively small tornado hit Shawnee, Okla., that Sunday. The First Response crew arrived there the morning of May 20 and saw there wasn’t much help they could offer. But when they saw the tornado hit Moore live on television later that day, they sprang into action, arriving there just two hours after the EF5 storm rolled through.

Canella says his stories from Moore reveal how the best of humanity emerges from life’s darkest hours.

“These are stories that renew your faith in people,” he says. “When someone rolls up with equipment for free and offers to clean up your property, it’s just a huge relief and they’re so thankful.”

With eight years of experience as a photojournalist, this wasn’t Canella’s first time covering a natural disaster, but that didn’t reduce the sting of the stories he told.

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin when I see people in a pile of rubble that used to be their home,” he says.

Following his six-month contract with The Weather Channel, Canella says he’ll continue a freelance career, which will allow him to work on stories that are meaningful to him. Now armed with an advanced degree, Canella says he has a better understanding of the theory behind his work.

“Switching your brain back and forth between theory and practice is a good challenge,” he says.

Watch one of Canella’s stories from Moore here:  http://www.weather.com/video/first-responders-arrive-in-moore-36887.