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Americas

Twitter tells the real-time story of the quake's human toll

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-02-28

With more than 2,000 tweets per minute coming from Twitter on Saturday morning, the popular micro-blogging site has once again proved that it can be one of the speediest, albeit not the most accurate, sources of real-time information.

 It took less than an hour for the earthquake that rocked the Chile on Saturday morning to become the No. 1 most talked-about issue on micro-blogging site twitter. More than 2,000 tweets a minute were emanating from the micro-blogging site within minutes of the quake hitting. Micro-blogger julioastillero tweeted, “For the past hour, the only media source that has given me thorough information on the earthquake is Twitter!”
 
Most Twitter users were content to simply spread information from mainstream international news outlets or to send messages of support to Chileans.

Other users fed the site, and thus the rest of the world, with live news from Chile. CVander, one of the most re-tweeted users on the Chile quake, wrote that he “has experienced quakes in several different countries, but this one really freaked him out”. He also gave his followers more down-to-earth information, reporting for instance when the power came back on in Santiago after the quake.
 
“I thought the end had come”
 
What is really significant about the site during a crisis such as this is the real human story that comes out from those directly affected. These very real human stories are what people around the world relate to, and can thus be key in mobilising the crucial support after such a disaster.
 
Twitter user Elliott Yamin, who was apparently in a particularly badly hit location, told Twitter followers of his predicament with a certain sense of humour: “So...1 min, I'm trashing this competition on twitter, the next, I'm running 4 my life 2 safety!...what a contrast!” His tone wasn’t quite as detached in earlier tweets, right after the quake hit he wrote: “I swear I though that was the end of my life!”
 
Nediaz, a Chilean who now lives in Mexico, tried to put together as many reactions and feeds as possible on his Twitter page. He wrote that he was informed by another web user that a hospital in Concepcion had been evacuated. He also linked to the new Wikipedia entry on the subject, as well as to a site that contains real-time updates on seismic activity in the region.
 
As was the case with Haiti after the devastating quake that rocked Port-au-Prince, Twitter allowed Chileans to share photos of the devastation caused by the natural disaster. Several dark and grainy images of rubble and buildings in ruin began circulating almost straight after the quake was first felt on sites like Twitcaps and PicFog.

Date created : 2010-02-27

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