Internet Aids Tsunami Recovery
The Internet played an unprecedented role supplying aid, money and information in the aftermath of the Asian tsunamis. Hours after the first waves crashed onto the coastlines, an electronic movement was underway. Donations poured into aid agencies through Web sites. Friends, relatives and strangers scoured the Internet for information about missing relatives and tsunami survivors. Individuals, linked by an electronic network from text messages to Web sites, began answering pleas for help, releasing list of survivors and funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to aid agencies even as authorities struggled to gain control the situation.
“Its been going on nonstop” said Andreas Hoistad, an IT worker in Norway, who helped establish the Phuket Disaster Message Board a day after the tsunamis hit Asia on December 26. The independent Web site, built by a few computer specialists with donated time and hardware, offers more than 13,000 postings with lists of names, descriptions of the damage, pictures of relatives and links for those seeking to identify victims. “The forum proved quite quickly that people involved in the disaster had a great need for information,” Hoistad said.
The electronic bulletin board has sections for the missing, reunited and breaking news. One posting for families lists identifying marks on bodies recovered from the devastated Thai coastline: “Male. Boy, blue T-shirt with a full-print of ‘Spiderman’ on front.” Another thanks searchers who found relatives or sent back word about their condition. Although a week has passed since the machinery of government and aid agencies was set in motion, thousands continue to visit the site each day. Web sites of foreign ministries and embassies still offer a limited number of resources for anxious families actively looking for loved ones.
That this surge has continued may be more impressive than that it existed in the first place. Ten days is an eternity in Internet time.