Web becomes virtual crisis centre in NZ quake
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 23, 2011
Victims and survivors of the New Zealand earthquake are using the web as a virtual crisis centre, searching for missing people and even offering survivors a place to stay.
Information is flowing out from Christchurch to sites such as web giant Google's Crisis Response service where people can add or request information on individuals.
The site's person finder tool had 8,500 records on people in the area by 0730 GMT.
Google offered similar services for victims of the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, and later used its Google Earth satellite imagery service to capture the scale of the devastation.
The site (www.google.com/crisisresponse/christchurch_earthquake.html) has emergency telephone numbers and other resources, such as a link to donate to the New Zealand Red Cross.
But a random search of the site illustrates the confusion in the shattered city.
People searching for a man named John Bing were told in one message "fatal injuries sustained as result of continuously falling debris", whereas another message said he was "safe and sound, with other Telecom employees."
On micro-blogging site Twitter (hashtags @safeinchch and #eqnzcontact) there is a constantly updating stream of messages about those missing and the situation on the ground.
There is also information on where to find drinking water, petrol and even cash machines.
"In our opinion, the location based social networking will increasingly become an important tool during times of crisis," said James Griffin, spokesman for social media monitoring firm SR7.
Another site, eq.org.nz, is helping take pressure off emergency services by plotting official and user-generated information and reports on a Google Map.
And people from all over New Zealand have rushed to use social network Facebook to open up their homes to people whose own houses may now be piles of rubble.
"If anyone needs to get away from the city we have space on a three acre block-have a spare room, own water tank, can accommodate anyone that comes regardless of space," wrote Rebekka. "Room for animals as well!"
"Large house on a farm close to town with room for 4 plus caravan with room for 7. Our thoughts go out to you all at this time we would love to help," wrote Ange from Inglewood.
A Facebook page in support of the victims and survivors had notched up almost 70,000 people (www.facebook.com/Support.Christchurch.Earthquake) by 0730 GMT who expressed support by "liking" the page.
A major problem has been the lack of power and telecommunications to get messages in and out of the city.
About 40 percent of Christchurch residents were still without power at 0700 GMT and the progress of repairs was slow due to road damage and because much of the network is underground, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported.
Local power company Orion told the national radio broadcaster it would be several days before power was fully restored. There were also fears that some fallen power lines remained live.
Phone and mobile network operator Telecom is bringing in mobile cellphone sites to help boost coverage and capacity, RNZ reported.
Facebook group offering accommodation: www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_144015715661100&view=doc&id=144017668994238
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