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Archive for Friday, September 14, 2001

Many turn to Internet to reach loved ones

September 14, 2001

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— By the time Kia Williams escaped the World Trade Center area and made it back to her Newark, N.J., apartment, she was a wanted woman.

Close to two dozen telephone messages awaited mostly from frantic friends and sorority sisters from New York and other states who wondered how she was doing. Because phone service into New York City was virtually jammed, she couldn't call to let them know she was shaken but OK.


Instead she turned to her computer.

"It was easier than trying to return 20 telephone calls," said Williams. "I couldn't call New York, and I couldn't retrieve my pager or cell phone. So some people I e-mailed. I was able to call them later on."

In the wake of Tuesday's national tragedy, some people have found that the best way to search for missing loved ones is by the Internet. They're using e-mail, message boards, alumni "listserves" and other Web sites to send an SOS or let others know they're safe.

Prodigy this week created a site called the "I'm Okay" message center, where people in New York and Washington, D.C., submit their names so that friends and family members know they weren't harmed in the building attacks.

Chief Executive Officer Paul Roth said he drew from memories of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in developing the message center.

"I recalled how people were desperate to find loved ones," he said.

Roth said that since its launch, I'm Okay has had more than 1.1 million searches and nearly 4,500 people who have registered.

"Everyone uses the Internet to conduct searches," Roth said from his headquarters in Austin, Texas. "It's the first time they've searched in this manner. During a disaster they turn to the Internet to find someone."

The company also added a business section to provide a place for companies at the World Trade Center to provide information for employees, family members of employees, customers, vendors and other business associates needing contact information.

Since Tuesday, similar sites such as ny.com, and Disaster Message Service have gained prominence.

Julia Marino, a spokeswoman for a Dallas high-tech production company, said the proliferation of such sites isn't surprising.

"Contact is important," she said. "A lot of people went online to get news. I went online and ... there was too much traffic. It's definitely been a help because it allows people to track news at their own pace without being tied to television."

At America Online, two areas have been created so people who worked at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon can reach loved ones, said company spokesman Nicholas Graham.

AOL members in some specialty areas have created message boards asking friends from New York and Washington to "check in" with updates on their condition.

Queens resident Daniel Wells put up a message on Wednesday so members in Netnoir would know he was OK.

"Many people are looking for loved ones. It's absolutely going crazy."

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