Social media covered the storm as never before

Posted: October 31, 2012

The night of Hurricane Sandy brought heartening stories of the power of social media to connect and inform.

In social media terms, Sandy is without a doubt the most-covered storm, in depth, breadth, and detail, in history. On Aug. 30, 2005, when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Facebook was a toddler of a year and a half, YouTube a babe of six months, and Twitter nonexistent.

Most tweets, posts, and videos sought to help people, both those in storm's way and those wanting to know more. Where were the nearest shelters? What roads were closed? Why was Sandy now a "post-tropical cyclone"?

The world watched, via YouTube, as the ocean breached sea walls and inundated Atlantic City, Seaside Heights, and other towns. The world followed, via Twitter, as the intensive-care wards of NYU Hospital's Langone Medical Center, without power, were evacuated down nine flights of steps.

YouTube was an especially poignant source, providing immediate, breathless, you-are-there videos of a spectacular power-plant explosion in Manhattan, the collapse of a building facade in Chelsea, a fire in Queens.

A two-minute video on YouTube showed a stretch of Atlantic City's Boardwalk reduced to a shambles voiced over by a man named only "Jitney Guy": "Now the Boardwalk's in front of my house. I used to have it behind my house; now it's in front of my house on the street."

Strangers got e-mail, tweets, and Facebook posts from strangers all over the world. L.A. actor Silvana Gargione tweeted a stranger for news of Lawrenceville, N.J., where her parents live. Later, that same stranger answered his cellphone: It was a woman in Oaxaca, Mexico, who'd gotten his phone number from relatives in Mexico City and called him to find out about her relatives in Lawrenceville. (Told there were no deaths there, she cried, "Thank God!")

Some people, like Ben Siegel, used social media to learn whether school (or the gym) was open. Facebook user Lea Pearson said she used it "to share experiences with people in other parts [of] the country and my experiences on the northeast coast of Massachusetts. I felt like we were creating community and that felt great."

Lynn Rapoport Thames said, "After power went out, Twitter was my main source of news. On Facebook all day. It's like hanging out with people you know while you are in your house."

On Tuesday morning, social media again were informing people: President Obama to tour storm damage in New Jersey with Gov. Christie; deadlines extended for absentee ballots in Pennsylvania; much of SEPTA running, but with lags in Regional Rail.

TV news outfits such as 6ABC ran Twitter posts from viewers such as Paul Parham, who sent images of storm damage in Trenton.

The neighborly urge was succinctly tweeted by @nbcnightlynews: "#Sandy's aftermath: How to help."


Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or jt@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @jtimpane.

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