By Keith Axline 09:05 AM Sep. 01, 2005 PT
Local community websites have sprung into action to assist hurricane Katrina survivors with everything from blankets to offers of shelter in their homes.
With cell and land-line phones mostly down, the web has emerged as a champion amid the wreckage. E-mail, instant messenger and blogs have proven lifelines for communication.
In relief efforts, too, the internet is proving invaluable, as websites have become hubs for putting badly needed goods and services directly into the hands of people who need them most. Where organizations like the Red Cross discourage anything other than financial donations, sites like craigslist allow people to meet up with victims for face-to-face aid. Craigslist users have flooded the New Orleans site with offers of shelter and comfort.
“The wonderful people of the art forum have banded together to send me care packages, donations and gift certificates since losing my house in New Orleans,” wrote one aid recipient in thanks to craigslist, signing her post simply as Shanna, formerly of New Orleans. “I have nothing left except for what fit into a Dodge Neon, and these strangers have opened their hearts to me.”
In addition to material aid, the craigslist New Orleans’ site has emerged as a key source of information for those seeking word of missing friends and relatives.
“Ellis Anderson of Bay St. Louis is OK!!!” reads one heartening post. “A friend called her parents today who told her she’d ridden out the storm in her house in BSL and survived!” But the vast majority are queries for any word of specific individuals.
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark says he first noticed Katrina-related postings on Tuesday afternoon and has since put up links to organize the postings. “We had one similar experience with 9/11,” he said of the outreach. “That was a matter of hours, but it was more intense, obviously.”
According to Newmark, page views on the site were up four times the normal amount on Tuesday, and where community-based forums such as “lost and found” see a few posts a day, Tuesday there were well over a thousand.
On the less-noble end of the craigslist spectrum, a few posters are bartering shelter and employment for romance and sex. One poster in search of “any cute New Orleans hipster girls displaced by Katrina” wrote, “I’ll even feed you and make you breakfast if you’re nice to me and wash the dishes.”
After numerous posts from men requiring specific physical characteristics and photos of the women they would bestow with their kindness, a few craigslist users retaliated. In a post called “‘H’ is for ‘Hurricane,’ not ‘Hookers,’ you sleazbags,” one irate user wrote, “The men on here … should be eaten by swamp alligators, or covered with iPods and chained to a lamp post on Canal Street.”
Craigslist isn’t alone. Wired News has compiled a list of Katrina-related web links, including sites that track missing relatives and friends in the flood zone. Also, Fullcircle.net has a list of people both lost and found and Scipionus.com offers an interactive map of New Orleans that people can tag with updates of specific areas.
New websites dedicated to finding lost loved ones have sprung up overnight. Fifteen-year-old web designer Alex Kehr has developed FindKatrina.net, a site with over 700 people indexed already.
Hurricane Katrina swept the Gulf Coast early this week, its eye narrowly missing New Orleans but wreaking havoc there nonetheless.
After cry-wolf hurricane scares such as Ivan, many evacuees left New Orleans and surrounding areas thinking they would leave town for a night and return home the next day. As a result they left town with very little.
Now, 80 percent of the city is underwater, and Mayor Ray Nagin has said that thousands of people are likely dead. Cleanup efforts are expected to take months, and many residents may never be able to return to their homes.
Should Nagin’s estimate be accurate, Katrina would be the worst natural disaster in the United States since the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, which killed anywhere from 500 to 6,000 people. The last hurricane of this magnitude, which claimed between 6,000 and 12,000 lives, was in Galveston, Texas, in 1900.