Web Brings Katrina Into Our Homes

Hurricane Katrina evacuee Glen Bohte, 40, of Kenner, La., talks to a friend on a cell phone in his hotel room as he uses a laptop computer to apply for assistance on the FEMA website Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, in Port Arthur, Texas. (AP Photo/Beaumont Enterprise, Scott Eslinger)
Even though many people in the hurricane ravaged areas of Louisiana and Mississippi are without power and Internet access, the Internet is playing a very important role in the way people are coping with the disaster.

To begin with, it's a great source of news and information for people who live outside the affected area. Not only are all the national and international news sites devoting considerable resources to covering the disaster, but so are local news organizations in the region as well as bloggers who are offering a unique and – in some cases – close up view of the situation.

For example, Michael Barnett who operates a blog called "The Interdictor" is currently referring to his site as "the Survival of New Orleans blog." He says on the site that "in less perilous times it was simply a blog for me to talk smack and chat with friends. Now this journal exists to share firsthand experience of the disaster and its aftermath with anyone interested."

Complete with a chat channel and a webcam with pictures of the street, the blog is operating from the high-rise offices of DirectNic, a New Orleans-based Internet service provider that has continued to operate on diesel generated backup power during the crisis. During daylight hours on Friday the company's webcam was transmitting live video of caravans of troops coming to the rescue of downtown New Orleans.

During the evening the camera was turned inward –where it is reassuring to see a group of people working in their office in the midst of all that is going on a few floors below them. There are also plenty of still pictures and, of course, lots of descriptions of what people are experiencing.

Of course, with all the media attention on New Orleans, there is no shortage of information coming out, but there is something refreshing about reading it first-hand, unfiltered by the news media.

Another great source of local information is the Web site of the New Orleans daily paper, The Times Picayune. Local conditions prevented the paper from publishing its usual printed edition during part of the week, but it has been able to publish online and keep the site up-to-date with the latest information from its own reporters, wire services and reader contributions.

One of the most important areas of the site is the Help Center where the newspaper is helping to locate missing persons and giving people a way to tell their friends and relatives that they're O.K. The newspaper, like many other sites, is also helping to link people offering and needing rides, homes and other resources plus it offers a "What's Happened To My Neighborhood" section with up-to-date information on a very local level.

A number of national Web sites have also come to the rescue in whatever ways they could. The New Orleans section Craigslist is helping to provide information on missing people, temporary housing, transportation needed and offered, missing pets and temporary employment listings.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark told CBS News "one of my guys in technology noticed that a lot of people were starting to use our New Orleans site for basics related to Katrina … and then we started putting up links for Katrina related resources" The most "poignant role is people asking if they have seen their relative or friend," he added, but the site is also being used for basic needs such as housing and transportation.

Click here to listen to a six-minute CBS News interview with Craig Newmark recorded Sept. 1.

The Internet can also be used to tune into some of the area's local TV and radio stations. WWL radio is broadcasting live via the Internet. I spent some time listening to a call-in show which gave me a much more personal perspective than watching the 24/7 cable news shows.

As I listen, a caller from his car is talking about finding gas on his drive from Louisiana to Tennessee. CBSNews.com has also been providing a link to CBS affiliate WWL-TV's TV broadcast. I've been able to get to the stations' Web site, but I haven't been able to get the TV feed on my PC.

Bloggator, which serves as a blog portal has put up links to Katrina related blogs.

CBSNews.com has its own Katrina Blog along with other resources in its

"Disaster on the Gulf Coast" section

A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."