New Orleans residents prepare for hurricane online

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New Orleans residents prepare for hurricane online

As Hurricane Gustav nears the American coast, residents are using social networking sites to prepare for the worst.

American Gulf Coast residents are using the internet to pool information in the lead-up to Hurricane Gustav.

Residents of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are being evacuated as Hurricane Gustav nears. The brunt of the hurricane is expected to hit Louisiana’s largest city, New Orleans, which also saw the worst of Hurricane Katrina almost exactly three years ago.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, mindful of the breakdown in communications during Hurricane Katrina, has set up a Hurricane Gustav information hub containing links to resources and information in English and Spanish for residents.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released an interactive, Javascript-enabled hurricane map, while the US Geological Survey is tracking weather impact in real time.

In New Orleans, residents are taking matters into their own hands. There are applications for iPhones and other mobiles, Facebook groups, a wiki for residents to pool information, forums for social discussion and blogs describing conditions in the city.

"We have loaded the guns," wrote blogger Craig from New Orleans Metblog, "though we haven’t shucked shells in the chambers yet. We have also posted a sign in the front window, saying 'We are here inside and heavily armed.'"

Others have created Twitter feeds to post up-to-date announcements. US news outlet CNN is directing its viewers to subscribe to #ricksanchezcnn, a Twitter news feed by reporter Rick Sanchez, to follow the story as it develops.

With mandatory evacuations taking place on Sunday, residents can track evacuation routes on the city newspaper's contraflow maps.

Those who stay can find lists of shelters and even places that will accommodate pets.

But using technology to track the hurricane isn't limited to locals. California web developer Sean Percival created a Hurricane Gustav news aggregator, pulling together news, blogs, photos, video and audio. Percival said he's interested in how new media, such as Twitter, will impact Gustav and the media's ability to keep viewers updated.

However, he points out that extensive social networking technology might not be useful after the hurricane lands: "Both landline and wireless carriers depend on local power to be up and running for your phone to work."
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