Missouri Tornado Takes Center Stage on Social Sites

May 24, 2011 07:00 AM
In the midst of chaos Sunday afternoon, tornado victims in Joplin, Mo., turned to social media to document the storm damage and provide information for fellow residents.
While phone lines were destroyed, text messaging and social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr remained viable options for locals to share storm footage and document it’s damage from a first-person perspective.
"Facebook was the easiest way to keep up-to-date with information on the most damage, on who was safe and who to worry about," says Renee Leggett an area resident who used Facebook to track the storm.
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Photo via Renee Leggett
The tornado which killed at least 89 people, and demolished an estimated quarter of the southwest Missouri town, tore through in the late afternoon on May 22, 2011. The storm which is reported to be one of the worst in American history took down many power lines which made communication throughout the area extremely limited. With scarce modes of communication, Leggett to turn to social media to locate loved ones.
"The phone lines were jamming and I was alternating between texting and Facebook updating," she says.
Even after the storm passed, residents continued to use Facebook to assess the damage and keep track of loved ones.
"Several of my network contacts kept in touch through the night and the next day to see who was safe and who we needed to look for, as well as who needed help or repairs," Leggett says.
Social media also took center stage in live coverage of the storm. Many posted pictures to Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, and some even posted YouTube videos of the storm and storm damage similar to this one.

 Video via
"I saw a few videos but I have been busy most of the time trying to help with the damage," she says. "Cell phone reception was hit-and-miss, so it has been hard to load any videos. I did take every chance I could to upload pictures to Facebook though."
The Twitter stream was just as active as users posted tweets like:
@Stlredcross : If you can't reach a loved one in #Joplin, use our #SafeandWell site at ... to search.
@achohelelwhy: Please RT: Looking for JEB & BRIDGET HANN in #Joplin MO. phone disconnected. no contact post #tornado
@katiestrail: NOTE: Text messages much more likely to work than voice calls on cellphones during disaster. #Tornado #Joplin #MO #Disaster
@fienen: Debris now reported up to 70 miles away. #Joplin #tornado
@katiestrail: Hospitals in #Joplin #Missouri are overwhelmed and damaged. DO NOT go to hospitals. Go to Memorial Hall if injured.
@brentbeshore: If you're a medical professional anywhere near SW MO, please head to Joplin immediately. #Joplin
@kellymcole: @jp_gardner please let me know you are ok. I am trying to call you in #Joplin
@LauinLA: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 Red Cross donation to the relief efforts in #Joplin - or visit redcross.org to give what you can.

Picking Up the Pieces

Facebook was also used to generate support and help for people suffering loss and damage.
"Several people in Joplin instantly had help lines up [on Facebook]," Leggett says. "There are also so many groups on Facebook to ‘like,’ it keeps you up-to-date on everything related to the storm and what supplies are needed."


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