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Wednesday, September 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Internet carries sad tales, advice

The postings read like sad, short stories offering intimate glimpses into the lives of strangers.

There are teachers asking about missing students. Adult children asking about elderly parents. Former residents wondering about old friends in New Orleans.

While television cameras captured the most dramatic images of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, the Internet has carried some of the most gripping details on blogs and Web sites dedicated to the catastrophe.

Just as New Yorkers papered the city with fliers and posters of missing friends and relatives after Sept. 11, people in New Orleans and Mississippi are turning to cyberspace. More than 5,400 items about missing people were posted in a 24-hour period on NOLA.com, a Web site run in conjunction with The Times-Picayune newspaper. As of yesterday afternoon, about 23,500 postings were on a forum established for missing people.

Joe Territo, executive editor of Advance Internet in Jersey City, N.J., which owns NOLA.com and is part of the Newhouse media company, said the Web site received 22 million hits in one day alone.

One of the messages came from Brenda Parker, 47, an IBM manager near Atlanta who was searching for her elderly parents, Lev and Hazel Stewart, who stayed behind because they did not want to leave their house.

"I am trying desperately to find out about my mother and father," Parker wrote. "Both are in their 70s and live at 3601 Hamburg Street." Her story had a happy ending. Her parents were rescued by the New Orleans Fire Department.

Another site, Katrinahelp.info, provides listings of names and last-known locations of the missing, posted by loved ones, plus survival tips (how to purify water) and links to charitable groups. The site was created by a dozen Internet contributors from India, Holland and the United States.

Rob Kline, one of the creators and product manager for Marchex Inc., a software development company in Seattle, said: "Since KatrinaHelp is a wiki (meaning anyone can edit the site), we are taking advantage of the ability to structure and disseminate needed information at a rate that no conventional Web site can match. Wikis have the abilities to link together people like no medium I've seen."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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