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Facebook, Twitter Become Lifelines Following Mich. Tornadoes

March 17, 2012

By Ellen Creager, The Detroit Free Press

March 17--Facebook became a lifeline Thursday in Dexter, not just a hobby.

Jennifer DeGregorio, 35, used the social network to let family and friends know that she, her 4-year-old son and her mother were safe after a tornado ripped off the siding and blew out all the windows of their house in the Dexter Crossing neighborhood.

The family fled to the Lamp Post Inn in Ann Arbor, where DeGregorio posted to Facebook: "Out of all the cul de sacs in all the world, a tornado had to demolish mine. Everyone is OK."

She kept posting, communicating with people in the storm's path and with relatives and friends, some of whom could not reach her any other way.

"The neighborhood was very chaotic. My nephew who lives out of state couldn't reach me on the phone, but he was able to reach me on Facebook."

Just as social media has functioned during recent disasters worldwide, Facebook and Twitter served as mini news bureaus, with citizen reporters letting others know what was happening on their rainy corners.

Lorrie Shaw was on her way home from her pet-sitting company in Ann Arbor when she saw a black sky and what looked like a funnel cloud. She ducked inside Country Market in Dexter just before the storm hit and searched Twitter for mentions of tornadoes, using the hashtag #miwx.

"There was a lot of information there ... but I wasn't finding out a whole lot," said Shaw, 41. "The tornado hit about a block away from where I was."

She was able to contact her husband in the basement of their house 8 miles away to learn that he, their two dogs and a cat were safe.

After the storm blew by, "I didn't want to get in the way," she said. She stayed put, "and I started to contact family and friends and clients to see if they were OK."

Shaw's posts of what she saw and heard during the storm were like news bulletins: "I had taken cover in Country Market, within mere blocks of the epicenter of the damage."

For others, Facebook and text messages meant they could stay put in safety instead of driving around in the storm looking for children and other loved ones.

"I don't know what I would have done if I couldn't get ahold of my kids," said Angela Bono-Loudermilk, 41, of Dexter. "I probably would have gone to find them."

She was at work when the storm hit. Her 16-year-old son, Blake, was inside their Huron Farms subdivision home, hiding in the basement, posting on Facebook and texting. She knew he was safe, posting in real time as the windows blew out of the upstairs rooms of their home. She kept getting calls from concerned friends.

"We were frantically trying to keep in touch," she said. "I had another kid down on Noble Street in the basement closet, another daughter at gymnastics, and my husband was out by Dexter Mills."

Use of social media helped keep Bono-Loudermilk, Shaw and DeGregorio calm.

Were it not for Facebook, "it would have been a lot longer of a night trying to explain to people things individually," DeGregorio said.


(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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