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Joplin Remembered: Social Media During Disaster

(Joplin, MO) -- As devastation tore through Joplin, social media became more important than ever.

(Joplin, MO) -- As devastation tore through Joplin, social media became more important than ever.

"We made our first post within an hour and a half of the tornado," says Rebecca Williams, co-creator of the Joplin Tornado Info Facebook page. "The page was very busy in the first few hours, and we answered every single post."

"Once the power came on, it caught me up on everything that had happened," says Joplin resident Cate Cassel Loch. "I had no clue what was going on and when that was back up it caught me up. It was just so important."

The Joplin Tornado Info page was just one of several Facebook pages helpful during Joplin's tornado recovery.

"We had no idea the magnitude of the Joplin tornado when we started the page," Williams says. "We thought there was a lot of destruction, but we didn't know we were making a page for one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history."

With spotty to no power, cable or phone services, social media like Facebook and Twitter played a large role in helping tornado survivors and their family members in other areas of the world.

"It was comforting for them," Loch said.  "It was a lifeline for I think all of us. I could see someone calling, but I couldn't answer the phone."

"It's very interesting to go back to the beginning and see how the page was used in the very early hours," Williams says. "We used it to post triage locations,  phone numbers to call to check on loved ones at area hospitals and very emergent crisis type needs. It's very chilling to go back and read those."

People in Joplin and other areas of the world were grateful to have a centrally located, easily accessible information clearing house.

"Text messages could get through when voice messages could not," Williams says. "We've been told that people's loved ones in Chicago would check our page and text people at ground zero because remember there was no power -- no nothing."

"The use of social media was immeasurable," Loch says. "How could we have done what we did? We couldn't call. We couldn't answer the phone. How would we have touched base?"

And the importance of social media didn't stop there. It played a vital role in helping volunteers find out what they could do to assist in recovery efforts.

"It works so much better to meet the immediate need rather than waiting to look in the newspaper or even the news that night," Loch says. "If something happens now, within a minute it can be all over the place, and the good thing about social media is you can repost things. If you see someone needs help, you can repost that and the need can be met."

More than 47,000 followers are still a part of the Joplin Tornado Info Facebook page, and Williams still posts up to 10-11 times a day.

"It's done amazing things. The outpouring of support we got just brings tears to my eyes."

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