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Twitter tells the story of devastation following quake

The storm of Twitter activity following the earthquake in Haiti is a reminder of how social networking sites – rather than traditional news media - have become the first stop for information about and reactions to major catastrophes.

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Following the devastating earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale that rocked Haiti on Tuesday night, Twitter, the microblogging and social networking site, has been flooded with words of support for the Haitian people and calls for relief donations. Photos and live accounts of the damage on the ground and messages from Haitians trying to locate missing family members are also appearing all over the site.

Photo posted on Twitter by LisandroSuero. See more images here: http://twitpic.com/photos/LisandroSuero
Photo posted on Twitter by LisandroSuero. See more images here: http://twitpic.com/photos/LisandroSuero

With telephone lines down, the flurry of Twitter activity is a vivid reminder of how social networking sites – rather than traditional news media - have become the first stop for information about and reactions to major catastrophes. Twitter allows users to post messages or "tweets" of no more than 140 characters.

Shortly after the quake, whose epicentre was inland and only 10 miles (16 km) from Port-au-Prince, one Twitter user on the ground, troylivesay, posted on his account: "Just experienced a MAJOR earthquake here in Port au Prince - walls were falling down. - we are ALL fine - pray for those in the slums."

The user continued to post updates as aftershocks rattled the island, describing how church groups were singing all through the night in prayer. “It is a beautiful sound in the middle of a horrible tragedy”, posted troylivesay.

Images of the quake taken by a journalist, Carel Pedre, on his mobile phone and then shared by another Twitter user quickly spread around the Web, providing startling images of damage and panic-stricken people in the streets. The photos, “re-tweeted” by concerned Twitter users, were the first images to reach major news sites.

Another Twitter user, Lisandro Suero (http://twitpic.com/photos/LisandroSuero) has posted several images of the devastation, taken by him or other users.

Other Twitter users reached out in an attempt to obtain information about missing relatives. “Anybody know Alice Coonen or Alix Pierre-Louis Pls let me know, they're my mom/stepdad in Port au Prince” was posted in the middle of the night by a user called maite67.

Photo posted on Twitter by LisandroSuero. See more images here: http://twitpic.com/photos/LisandroSuero
Photo posted on Twitter by LisandroSuero. See more images here: http://twitpic.com/photos/LisandroSuero

Meanwhile, Western Twitter accounts, from that of the American Red Cross to famous Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean, were filled with urges to donate money to relief efforts.

Beyond sharing practical information, some in Haiti took to their Twitter accounts simply to express their grief or describe their shock at the events. As one user named fredodupoux said: “It's really ugly, just like in a bad dream.”
 

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