Even in impoverished Haiti, online tools play central role (Feature)
By Andy Goldberg Jan 13, 2010, 18:29 GMT
San Francisco - The messages from Carel Pedre, one of Haiti's most prominent TV hosts, poured in thick, fast and desperate.
Using online media tools like Twitter, Flickr and CNN's iReport, the usually genial host posted information and images of an impoverished country pushed deep into disaster by the worst earthquake to hit the Caribbean in 200 years.
'Now We Need To Be Organized! Let's Make it Happen People!! Haiti Needs You!,' he tweeted on Wednesday, a day after the 7.0-magnitude quake. Soon after he sent another message: '1st After Shock Of The Day!!! Haiti is sill shaking!! HELP!!'
Photos he took on his mobile phone and distributed via Twitter provided some of the first images of the devastation that wracked Port-au-Prince, as international media was still busy trying to get journalists to the scene of the disaster. With the country's landline and cellphone communication in disarray he often used internet telephony service Skype to communicate.
Despite the country's reputation as a technology backwater, local residents took only minutes to spread news of the quake via Twitter.
'Just experienced a MAJOR earthquake here in Port au Prince - walls were falling down - we are ALL fine - pray for those in the slums,' wrote missionary Troy Livesay. 'Most people are staying outside in our area - aftershocks are still continuing ... a neighbor was in a school that collapsed.'
Hotel manager Richard Morse also gave constant updates from the scene in the hours after the quake struck. 'Just about all the lights are out in Port-au-Prince ... people still screaming but the noise is dying as darkness sets. Many large buildings nearby have collapsed ... people are bringing people by on stretchers ... Port-au-Prince is dark except for a few fires.'
YouTube highlighted coverage of the disaster at the top of its home page and it didn't take long for people to post harrowing videos on the site. Schoolgirls in plaid skirts wailing as one of their classmates lay injured, bloody dead bodies lay unattended in rubble strewn streets, on top of cars and half-buried in rubble, a man with a grotesquely broken arm prostate on the ground, with no one able to help him.
Facebook also jumped quickly into the Haitian fray. By Wednesday morning, a group called Earthquake Haiti already had more than 23,000 members many of whom posted desperate pleas looking for missing friends and relatives.
'Looking for my Mom in Haiti,' wrote one member. 'Her name is Jeanne Voltaire. Last I knew she was in Haiti and was talking about going to a hospital. This was a few weeks ago, so her whereabouts is unknown.'