Internet becomes valuable tool to keep victims informed

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 27, 2004

A week ago Friday I became an Ivan Blogger. The entire weekendand much of this past week has found me consumed on the Internetwith Hurricane Ivan. A blogger is an Internet term for those folkswho just sit on the Internet and … well blog.

My venture into the fray happened quite innocently. On theFriday morning after Ivan hit the Alabama/Florida coast, I flewalong with Keith White and others to the Gulf Shores and PerdidoKey area. I filmed the damage as we passed over the islands.Knowing the area fairly well, I knew landmarks and understood thecarnage that had taken place. I knew what was standing and what wasnot.

Later that afternoon I checked the Pensacola News Journal website for some updated information and happened upon a reader forumon the web site for the Perdido Key area. People were begging forany information about damage on the island.

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I posted a comment that I had flown over the area earlier in theday and commented that the high-rise condominiums, contrary toearlier news reports, had weathered the storm, as did many of thesmaller vacation homes.

Almost instantly, I became a blogger. Within seconds, a requestwas made of my knowledge of another property — then another andanother. As I answered one, another request would come. Then amessage popped up that said, “This guy named Bill Jacobs hasvideo…” and the computer went crazy. Six hours later, about 2a.m. Saturday, I logged off.

The next morning I booted the computer and the messages startedpouring in again. This time they were asking me where I had been,requesting more information and begging that I post the videotapeon the Internet.

Unsuccessful in my attempts to upload the video, I startedwriting a narrative documenting building by building the situationand posted it to The DAILY LEADER web site. I informed my PerdidoKey forum readers where they could get detailed information.

As it turned out the airspace around the area was closedsometime Friday afternoon and no planes were allowed in the area.And since President Bush was to visit, no planes were allowed tofly all day Saturday or Sunday.

My video became even more valuable.

The Perdido Key area is isolated and due to the hurricanedamage, authorities sealed off the island. Very few news pictureswere available and I had most of them.

Sunday afternoon and much of the evening until well aftermidnight was spent answering inquiries, reviewing video tape andgiving more details. By mid-week my purpose became more of aconduit of information about gaining access to the island.

Embarrassingly, I became somewhat of an Internet celebrity. Ireceived e-mails of appreciation, promises of gifts of wine andbeverage, I believe a few first born children being named after mewere promised, two newspaper reporters requested interviews andsomeone named “Beachblonde” asked for my cell phone number!

All in all during the past week over 15,000 readers hit thePNJ/Perdido Key forum site where I was posting information. TheDAILY LEADER web site has over 4,500 hits on the story I postedSaturday and another 5,000 have viewed photos we posted on our website just this past Thursday afternoon.

By Friday, the inquires started to settle down as otherinformation became available and I signed off the Pensacola NewsJournal forum site. Amy still has my cell phone and tells me”Beachblonde” has not called.

Seriously, thousands upon thousands of people felt a tremendousamount of damage — some with local ties. Those of us old enough toremember Hurricane Camille can relate to the situation — it isvery similar.

We need to keep these folks in our thoughts and prayers.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to