Originally created 12/30/04

Family and friends search for tsunami survivors online



STOCKHOLM, Sweden - On hundreds of Web sites worldwide, the messages are brief but poignant: "Missing: Christina Blomee in Khao Lak" or "Where are you?" Some are nothing more than names, ages, nationalities. Others list details of where loved ones were last seen. Some have pictures of the missing.

All convey the aching desperation of people from Italy to the United States seeking news about family or friends caught in the earthquake and tsunami waves that ravaged southern Asia.

Web sites and blogs have become the announcement boards and lost and founds for a disaster that has left many thousands of people unaccounted for, including 2,000 to 3,000 Americans and thousands more Europeans and other non-Asian visitors to the region.

On the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Web site, dozens of people posted notes seeking someone.

"Does anyone have news of my colleague Chuck Kearcik and his wife Melinda and children Candice and Charlie (US citizens working in Kuwait, vacationing in the Maldives)?" asked Andy of Kuwait City.

Cheryl Boehm of Houston searched for her father, Jesse L. Adams. "He is an American citizen and is retired living on South Pattaya Beach. Please contact me with any information as I have no way to find or communicate with him right now! Please help me find my Dad!!"

Another, Jaclyn Higgs of California, pleaded for help in finding her family. "I am desperately trying to contact my four-year old son Aidan Ashburn-Higgs and his father Jeffrey Ashburn who both flew into Thailand on Sunday. I have not heard from them since they left the airport in San Francisco. If you see this, please let me know you are safe."

Others sent text messages from across continents in a bid to find those who are missing.

In Sweden and Denmark, mobile phone operators stopped charging for mobile calls to and from Southeast Asia for 48 hours to make it easier for survivors to get in touch with their families.

"We thought it would be a nice move from cellular phone companies," said Robert Neimanas of the Swedish group Telia's branch in Denmark.

The Swedish companies also sent text messages to all Swedish-registered phones in Thailand asking subscribers to call their families or the Swedish Embassy.

In the Nordic nations, blogs and Internet bulletin boards were rife with queries about people among the 2,700 missing Finns, Norwegians, Swedes and Danes.

"Veronika Priebe Jakobsson and her family? They were in Thailand? Has anyone heard from them?" asked one post on the Phuket Disaster Message Board.

Another message, from Glen Barlow, said: "We are looking for Nigel, Lotta and little Alec from Sweden." It adds details about Briton Nigel Atterbury, his Swedish partner Liselott Hallberg and their 3-year-old son, Alec.

One of the lucky few, Barlow posted another message less than six hours later saying the family had been found and was flying home.

Valerio Natale, a 14-year-old Italian, started a Web site a year ago about "The Simpsons" television show, but this week he replaced it with a site for Italians searching for missing relatives.

"I just wanted to help," said the teenager, who lives in the village of Amelia in Italy's central Umbria region. "Everyone has to make a contribution when something like this happens."

He said 20 people in Italy had contacted him by Wednesday asking for information about missing relatives.

Some used the Internet to link names with photos, sometimes with a happy ending.

On Wednesday, a Swedish toddler, Hannes Bergstroem, was reunited with his injured father at a Thai hospital, days after being found wandering alone in the wreckage. The 18-month-old's uncle had spotted the child's photo posted on the Web by another hospital and claimed him Tuesday, setting up the reunion with Hannes' father, Marko Karkkainen.

But Hannes' mother, Suzanne Bergstroem, was still among some 5,000 people missing in Thailand.

It's an example of the reach and immediacy of modern technology. With cell phones, thousands of people in the disaster zone were able to send text messages to newspapers and television stations getting word back home.

For people with a less personal interest, the Internet also provided images and news of the destruction, including firsthand accounts from bloggers who lived through the waves and quickly posted pictures and descriptions.

One site, www.2bangkok.com, filed nonstop reports about the disaster, offering links to news reports, pictures from Thai television and other blogs, as well as photos found on the Internet.

Authorities also were using cell phones to track people's whereabouts. In Denmark, the National Police said Wednesday that Danish telecom companies would provide information about all cellular phone communications between Denmark and Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3.

"This will allow us to identify people and find out when and what calls they make to map their whereabouts," Niels-Otto Fisker said. "It will be a piece in the huge jigsaw puzzle."

Some people turned to blogs to raise money and awareness of the disaster.

A group of people in Bombay, India, started a blog, http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com, to list contact numbers, addresses and links for those interested in helping.

"We give them the whole resources, avenues to contribute, volunteer," said Dina Mehta, a 37-year-old consultant.

The site also provides a place for readers to post messages and replies about those missing. And it has contributors from across the disaster zone, including one in Sri Lanka who updates by sending text messages from his cell phone.

"We're not really doing the relief work. It's just intended to be a house for all resources, so people don't have to run around looking everywhere," Mehta said. "Or if someone lost a relative or has a missing (relative), we wanted to be able to give them a voice."

Amazon.com is asking its users to make a donation for disaster relief through its Web site. America Online said it started a site for its members to make donations to relief agencies, and said the company itself had donated $200,000 through the American Red Cross.

The International Red Cross started its own Web site Wednesday to help people track down survivors.

It has sections for Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, which were the hardest hit by the quake and ocean surges. Most registrations on the first day were by people seeking missing from the Nordic countries, Britain, Germany, France and the United States, particularly California.

Associated Press reporters Anick Jesdanun in New York and Matteo Cruccu in Rome contributed to this story.

On the Net:

Tsunami Help: http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com

BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking(underscore)point/4130565.stm

Red Cross: http://www.icrc.org/home.nsf/home/webfamilylinks(poundsign)a9

Phuket Disaster Message Board: http://www.p-h-u-k-e-t.com/forum