Daily Archives: January 13, 2010

Covering disaster on the real-time Web: Haiti earthquake

Earlier tonight, there was a major earthquake in Haiti.

Reports of seismic activity trickled online about six hours ago and then grew into a torrent.

Since then, CNN, the New York Times, NPR, WSJ, LA Times and thousands of other outlets have covered the news of the aftermath of a major natural disaster in the poorest nation in Western Hemisphere.

Tragedy unfolding in real-time.

I saw the first report of the earthquake in Haiti on Twitter, through Deb Dobson, when she tweeted a report from @WXII:

“AP: A strong 7.0 earthquake has hit the impoverished country of Haiti where a hospital has collapsed.

When I clicked over, Google real-time search for “Haiti earthquake” had already begin rolling.

No geolocated tweets had begun to show up when I did a geolocated search within 50 miles of Haiti on Twitter

That changed quickly.

Geolocated tweets from within 200 miles of #Haiti began coming in after the #earthquake‘s main force had hit. And searchers began to pick up local accounts, including overservers like @laurahertzfeld. She picked out @fredodupoux @danloprod and @futurehaiti.

Sharp-eyed picked up on the reports and put it out on the new wire – the real-time Web. After the story broke, the @LATimes reported that there had been multipled aftershock reported for #Haiti, with the initial #earthquake‘s epicenter 10miles inland. Given that location a tsunami was unlikely.

Using advanced search, I was able to find other people tweeting about the #earthquake near Port Au Prince, like @troylivesay and InternetHaiti.

I found that Andy Carvin was following the same electronic channels in real time. He created a NPR’s list of people tweeting from Haiti, adding sources as he discovered them from suggestions from his thousands of followers and his own geolocated searches. A story quickly went up at NPR.org that was updated with details as the story developed.

I heard CNN interview @Wyclef Jean soon afterwards. Wyclef was apparently on the phone with someone in Haiti when quake hit.

Not long after that,@CBSNews tweeted a statement from President Obama: “We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti.”

Within the hour, pictures of the earthquake’s aftermath began to emerge on Twitter, shared on Twitpic. @cristianrguez shared these shots: http://twitpic.com/xurlj http://twitpic.com/xurol

It’s this grainy pic, however, http://twitpic.com/xuthn, that’s on the front page of CNN.com, the LA Times and NPR.org. It’s on the image above.

It wasn’t long before more pictures of the disaster began to stream online. Marshall Kirkpatrick retweeted @RodrigoBNO, who tweeted “the first pictures from Haiti, now via Twitter: http://twitpic.com/photos/marvinady

@TroyLivesay, again geolocated in Haiti, tweeted that “Tipap made it from Carrefour – saw many dead & injured along the way – most buidings w/more than 1 story are down”

By that time, other media organization had made lists sources on Twitter that were near the disaster, including reporters and editors who were curating the stream.

CNN made a list: @CNN/haiti

And so did the @LATimes/haiti-quake

Add that to @NPRNews/haiti-earthquake and there were three columns of real-time news to watch stream in.

And then, hours after raw pictures from the real-time Web had streamed onto Twitter and into Google’s index, the New York Times posted an arresting gallery of earthquake pictures from Haiti.

Now, real-time will shift to real work, as disaster relief is surged to Haiti.

The extent of the damage will only become clear as more cameras and connectivity arrive in Haiti.

For now, the world has seen again how information can spread through the virtual reflectors of the online world. In 2010, fiber optic cables link media outlets in much the same way, connecting humans to one another in much the same way as axons connect neurons in a cybernetic brain.

Even in the worst of times, the current ability of humankind to detect harm and direct resources towards healing wounds to populations can be breathtaking. The digital tools available to nimble editors for informing the audience of what’s happening in real-time by curating online media are unprecedented. And the ways that individuals can directly reach out to help those afflicted are powerful.

How you can help:

As Britt Bravo at BlogHer shared:

• The American Red Cross is accepting donations for its International Response Fund. You can follow their work on the American Red Cross Disaster Newsroomblog, and on Twitter at @RedCross.

U.S. Fund for UNICEF also needs donations. According to their press release:

“Funds are urgently needed to provide safe water, temporary shelter systems, essential medical supplies etc. . . . Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has a population of 9.6 million inhabitants, of which more than half are under 21 years old.”

You can follow UNICEF’s work on their Field Notes blog, and on Twitter at @UnicefUSA.

Mercy Corps is deploying an emergency team, and is asking for donations. You can follow their work on the Mercy Corps blog, and on Twitter at @mercycorps.

• According to their Twitter feed, Oxfam America is already on the ground in Haiti and is asking for donations. You can follow them on the Oxfam America blog and on Twitter at @oxfamamerica

• Musician Wyclef Jean, who established Yéle Haiti, tweeted, “Help Haiti Earthquake Relief Donate $5 by texting YELE to 501 501 right now please RT.” You can follow him on his blog, and on Twitter at @wyclef.

The next twenty four hours will be crucial. As Marc Ambinder tweeted, “from what I can gather, Obama is still up and working on response to the Haiti earthquake.the President was still up at 1 AM. Virtually everything I hear from folks in the know begins with “bad, bad, bad.” A catastrophe upon a catastrophe.”

Here’s hoping the digital tools that communicated the news can be used to help those in dire need.

UPDATE: Chris @Sacca has shared 6 ways that you can help in Haiti. His post and further annotations for each link are worth reading.

1) Text “HAITI” to “90999” to donate $10 to the Red Cross

2) Text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele Haiti

3) Donate to Partners in Health (click here) — PIH (@pih_org)

4) Donate to Architecture for Humanity (@archforhumanity) (click here)

5) Donate to @charitywater (click here)

6) Learn more about Haiti

UPDATE II: Brock Meeks posted the following video of the earthquake from YouTube.

UPDATE III Raw footage from after the earthquake ended. Warning: graphic images of death, destruction and grief.

UPDATE IVJournalism professor Dan Kennedy wrote thoughtfully about citizen media and the earthquake in Haiti. As he writes there, Global Voices has a posted “a compilation of tweets and photos and a digest of what bloggers in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean are saying.”

CNN’s iReport also has put together a page on the Haitian earthquake.

UPDATE V: By the end of Wednesday, the New York Times had also assembled a number of useful list of Twitter accounts related to the earthquake in Haiti:


Filed under blogging, journalism, social media, technology, Twitter