Web and social media come to aid of NZ quake survivors

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As the death toll climbs in the wake of the recent earthquake in New Zealand, the web has become a virtual crisis centre. Survivors are concerned friends and relatives are using the net to search for missing people and offer those who made it through a place to stay.

Google’s Crisis Response service is one major site where people are adding or requesting information on individuals.

The site’s person finder tool currently has records on around 8,000 people in the area around the quake. However, a random search shows the web has not been able to replace confusion in the devastated city of Christchurch.

Friends and relatives searching for a John Bing were initially told he had “fatal injuries sustained as result of continuously falling debris”. However, shortly afterwards another message stated he is “safe and sound, with other Telecom employees”.

Similar services for victims of the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti were offered by Google, as the search engine’s earth satellite imagery service captured the scale of the devastation across all affected regions.

Google’s current site for New Zealand lists emergency telephone numbers, a link to donate to the New Zealand Red Cross and a maps service.

Print media has also taken up the internet with the New Zealand Herald’s website offering scrolling updates from Twitter and social media giant Facebook.

“In our opinion, the location based social networking will increasingly become an important tool during times of crisis,” James Griffin, spokesman for social media monitoring firm SR7, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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 Facebook to open up their homes to people whose 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 four plus caravan with room for seven. Our thoughts go out to you all at this time we would love to help,” wrote Ange from Inglewood.

On one of the main Facebook group offering accommodation, a Kim Ross writes, “I have a room, double bed for a couple or anyone who needs it…stay as long as it takes”. Like so many others, users like Kim have had no hesitation providing their personal contact details. A sure sign social media has fostered a sense of community and generosity at a scale that would be difficult to replicated offline.

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