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Katrina Online: Strange Tales, Pleas for Help, Offers of Aid

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
September 1, 2005
 
Photo Gallery: Refugees
Struggle, Looters Plunder in New Orleans >>


The Gulf Coast continues to reel from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Evacuations, power failures, and road closures have left tens of thousands of refugees scattered and communications disrupted.

Amid the chaos, Internet blogs are stepping up to connect missing loved ones and provide onsite reports from New Orleans and other devastated communities.

Hit hard like nearly everyone else in the area, New Orleans's venerable newspaper, the Times-Picayune, had to abandon its offices for Baton Rouge. But the paper is publishing a vital blog at its local news Web site, www.NOLA.com.

"You Loot, I Shoot"

Reports of the city's widespread looting and lawlessness are a particularly hot topic. With efforts focused on rescue and evacuation, few law enforcement resources remain to curb the armed looting that has left Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco "furious."

On Tuesday Blanco's spokesperson Denise Bottcher confirmed that looters tried to break into the locked Children's Hospital in uptown New Orleans.

While a few city residents sympathized with those looting food items, others writing on the NOLA.com blog pointed to thuggery and greed, saying it reflects New Orleans at its worst.

"New Orleans is now under marshal law," one angry poster noted, "meaning that if the police want to, they are certainly within their rights to shoot the looters. Maybe a few examples can be made."

Several bloggers who said they remain in the city reported the appearance of signs warning, "You loot, I shoot."

As reports trickle out of New Orleans, tales both true and dubious are acquiring new life online. One popular but unconfirmed report tells of a shark spotted cruising the flooded streets of the Crescent City.

Earlier this morning CNN reported that shots had been fired at military helicopters over the Superdome, forcing the caravan of evacuation buses from that facility to be halted.

Buses had been moving thousands of refugees from the Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The cable television news network also reported that the Astrodome's event schedule had been cleared until December.

Writing on the NOLA.com blog, Times-Picayune reporter Doug MacCash that one strange urban myth has turned out to be a reality—ant balls.

"In addition to all of the other horrors befalling New Orleanians during the flood was the creepy discovery that red ants form themselves into floating clusters to avoid drowning," he wrote.

"As … I paddled along Carrollton Avenue on Wednesday, I saw two glittering, golf ball-sized masses of ants floating beside our canoe."

Groundswell of Relief Efforts

Throughout cyberspace, bloggers are posting tragic tales in hopes of receiving help—or offering it.

"I'm a Marine in Fallujah, and also a Mandeville native," wrote a blogger using the alias JeffUSMC on the NOLA.com Web site yesterday.

"I have had a hard time finding any info on the North Shore. My parents live in the Green Leaves Subdivision. Does anyone know if it flooded that far or how bad the wind damage is. Any news would be welcome. Thanks."

Another NOLA.com bulletin board message relayed an e-mail said to be from a friend trapped in a flooded New Orleans hospital:

"There are about 1,300 people here who need help. I would appreciate it if you could forward this information to federal and state authorities and press in the U.S. and in Louisiana to make sure these sick people are cared for," read the message, signed Bill Quigley.

"I am in Memorial Hospital in New Orleans. We have nearly 200 very sick people, hundreds of staff and hundreds more families. The hospital has some basic electricity but many rooms have no electricity and many stairwells have no electricity," the message continued.

"There is no a/c and no external windows. We cannot phone out and can receive few incoming calls. The water is rising and the hospital is already surrounded by water. Once the water hits the first floor, the computers, the e-mail, all intercoms, and all internal communication inside the hospital will cease."

The Web has become a clearinghouse of charity and relief information for those who wish to help the victims of what President Bush has called "one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history."

The New Orleans Refugees Blogspot hosts a forum where the displaced hope to connect with friends and family, and vice versa.

NOLA.com has established similar forums as well.

Some message-board writers offered the most intimate forms of aid: "I have some room in my home for a small family of 3 in Williamsburg, VA until you get back on your feet," wrote a poster on the NOLA site.

Instapundit has compiled a comprehensive list of charities for those who wish to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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