Watching the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it unleashed upon Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama has been exceedingly difficult this past week. I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around the fact that New Orleans, a major metropolitan city, was effectively destroyed in a matter of days. However, I’ve been heartened by the many online efforts by people who are coming up with innovative ways to help those in need, no matter where they’re located around the world.
You’ve no doubt heard pleas to give money and assistance in any way you can, and we at TidBITS want to echo that call; to put our money where our mouth is, we’re donating 10 percent of proceeds from September sales of Take Control ebooks to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund. The hurricane itself may have passed quickly, but the need for aid and assistance will continue for quite some time.
Financial Aid — Sending money still seems to be the best way of providing support; based on reports we’ve received from people in that area, the American Red Cross was one of the earliest organizations providing support. Many other organizations are mobilizing their resources and accepting contributions; Charity Navigator, an outfit that evaluates the financial health of charities (and therefore helps steer people away from slimeballs – oops! I mean, the unscrupulous people who are already trying to get people’s money by sending email messages pretending to ask for hurricane donations) includes a list of charities that are helping to provide disaster relief.
Housing Assistance — With so many buildings damaged by the hurricane and the related flooding, thousands of people are without homes. In this category, the Internet is making a big difference. Katrina Volunteer & Housing Opportunities enables people with beds available to post their information, and displaced people to locate housing assistance in their area. As I write this, nearly 31,000 beds are available. MoveOn has also set up HurricaneHousing.org for the same purposes, with over 125,000 beds currently available.
Another great resource providing housing is Craigslist, which includes housing notices as well as posts for temporary employment, volunteer opportunities, and other services in Baton Rouge, Houston, Jackson, Mobile, Montgomery, New Orleans, Shreveport, and Pensacola.
People and Pets Search — Each of the cities served by Craigslist also includes forums for finding people who have not yet appeared following the hurricane. These listings are worth scanning if you haven’t heard from someone, as there are a few "found" postings noting that people are alive and well.
Another novel project, PeopleFinderVolunteer, has been created to take a lot of the raw data coming in about missing people and organize it into a useful, consolidated database. It provides a way for people across the Internet to help out by donating their time: log in, claim a listing (such as from Craigslist), and fill out an online form to put as much data into fields that can be searched by others.
Looking at the problem from the other side, CNN has begun compiling a Hurricane Katrina Safe List, where survivors can post their details as another method for friends and family to know that they’re okay.
Amid all the talk about the human suffering, we often forget about pets struggling to survive after the hurricane and flooding. The United States Humane Society and other sources are helping to scour the area for lost animals.
Wikis Prove Timely and Useful — Although the mainstream news media has been following the tragedy, some of the most effective information has appeared online in various wikis. Wikipedia’s Hurricane Katrina entry is a constantly updated collection of news, resources, and statistics, documenting facts as they appear. It also includes lots of related information such as the impact of the storm on the space shuttle program and Internet infrastructure damage.
And for a good general reference, the Katrina Help Wiki includes information for people in need, people who want to help, and links to other resources.