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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Nation/World

Web helps pull together lives scattered by storm

Daniel Chang Knight Ridder

MIAMI – The messages are raw and desperate and addressed to anyone who can help, SOS calls broadcast over the Internet.

The message writers are spouses, children, friends and strangers. Many seek missing loved ones; others offer shelter and help; still others simply want to let the world know they’ve survived.

“Help! My mother and 95-year-old grandmother!! Please someone check up!” reads one message posted on craigslist.org, an online bulletin board.

Some offer solace: “Will offer place for family to stay.”

A few report happy endings: “Ellis Anderson of Bay St. Louis is OK!!!”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Internet is helping to pull together lives scattered by the storm. The pictures and plaintive pleas on Web sites like hurricanekatrinasurvivors.com evoke the flurry of photographs and handwritten notes posted on lampposts, fences and other public places across New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some sites are innovative; MoveOn.org launched hurricanehousing.org on Thursday to help coordinate volunteers willing to open their homes to those rendered homeless by Katrina.

Others are the newfangled networks of old-fashioned media: Nola.com, the Web site of the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ daily newspaper, features a forum for readers to find missing persons or tell them they’re OK. The imbalance of postings is grim: More than 6,000 messages are listed under “Missing Persons”; about 500 are in the “I’m OK” category.

Some of the thousands of postings on craigslist.org’s New Orleans’ site scream with urgency: “HUNDREDS AT CONVENTION CENTER!!!! HELP!!!!!”

Others are uplifting: “FOUND!!!! ANOTHER LOVED ONE (MIDCITY).”

About an hour after posting a message on craigslist.org Wednesday, Dorothy Demboski, a retiree in Clayton, N.C., got word that her daughter, 38-year-old Anne Weatherford of New Orleans, was safe.

The call came from a stranger who saw her message and lives next door to the people who had taken in Weatherford, in a community north of Lake Pontchartrain.

“I was worried sick,” said Demboski, who has not spoken with her daughter since Saturday. “But after I got the call yesterday, it hit me. I felt like I’d just been bowled over.”

The feeling was such that Demboski reciprocated with her own offer, on craigslist.org, to call or e-mail the families of victims.

“I just want to do something,” Demboski said. “I’ve been pacing and pacing and pacing, and I thought, it’s the least I can do. This guy was my angel. He was my angel on the telephone, and if I can be that for just one other person …”

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