Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Radio plugs the gap for hurricane survivors


Radio stations have become lifelines for those who survived Hurricane Katrina, as well as those who are missing loved ones.

With landline and mobile-phone networks overwhelmed in the area hit by the devastating storm, especially flooded New Orleans, radio stations in nearby Baton Rouge are providing a forum for those looking to let their families and friends know that they have survived Katrina; those who want to send contact information to people they could otherwise not reach, and those living amid the devastation.

Other media outlets are also being used. Local newspapers have set up Internet sites to link families and friends, and news stations were reading messages from people looking for family members.

Desperation haunts some of the voices calling the radio stations to reach loved ones. A young woman made a plea for an ailing relative who needed a medical device to help her breathe.

With electricity out, along with television and computers, another caller phoned in just for some news. She asked for information about the situation in Mississippi, which was also hit hard by Katrina.

Five minutes later, a listener called in to say the entire coast of Mississippi was devastated, adding that he did not know how anybody could live there again. The man said that he had packed up his few belongings along with US$100 and was moving to California.

Another man wanted to let his family members who had sought refuge in the Superdome, New Orleans' indoor sports arena, to know that they should call him so he knew where to pick them up.

He quickly found out that the refugees in the Superdome would be sent to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The man responded that his family should contact him, and he would drive the 500km to Houston to pick them up.

This despite concern among Americans about identity theft and phone scams, the man provided his personal phone numbers on the air so that his relatives could reach him.

The episode was symptomatic of the situation in Katrina-devastated areas. Ordinary rules no longer apply the closer one gets to the epicenter of the destruction.

It also showed how that region has been dragged back to the era before the information age. News is sparse in Louisiana, where many are still without power, phone and Internet services.

While a lack of contact with the outside world is especially apparent for New Orleans, the surrounding areas are also affected.

Many people calling the radio stations seem confused as to what is going on as the rest of the country appears to have more information about their fate than they have.

The cases of those seeking their loved ones resemble what Americans saw after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when desperate New Yorkers held up pictures of their loved ones to learn anything about their whereabouts.

While the service is not going to link up all separated families, they at least provide hope. Whenever there is a success story of one family member receiving word from another, it lets other listeners know that the next caller could be providing the information they have been longing for.

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