Earthquake In Turkey: Communications: Foreign relatives use Net to track down news of families

Communications
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The Independent Online
IN TERROR, Rosemary Neilson rushed to the phone in her home in America. She had just heard about the immense earthquake that had ripped through Istanbul. Her brother-in-law lives in the city with his family. Only a short time ago, she had visited them there.

But the devastated city lay cut off from the world. The phone lines were down. Mobile phones were dead. In desperation, Ms Neilson turned to the World Wide Web.

She posted a message begging for information on the BBC website, which was inviting Turks to send their experiences of the catastrophe. Somehow, internet lines to Istanbul were kept open. Some one reading Ms Neilson's message in the shattered city went out in search of Ms Neilson's family. They read her message and sent back word that they were alive and well.

"Thank you BBC for your help in this terrible time," said a relieved Ms Neilson. "God, please help the Turks. I am just thrilled to have some information, unfortunately it is not so for everyone, it is so devastating."

It was a combination of the most advanced communication technology and basic humanitarian concern. There were plenty of people whose thoughts were not only for themselves. Offers to help flooded into the website, mingling with horrifying description of the catastrophe and its aftermath.

"Please feel free to call if you are having trouble contacting relatives or loved ones," one man wrote on the BCC website.

"I have e-mail access to over 10 friends living in Istanbul and they have offered to help," said another.

Several Turks told how they spent hours tryiong to contact people they had never met by phone as the lines began to open up.

Those with relatives pooled their information, sending details of which districts had been strcuks, and which had escaped unharmed.

Dr Mustafa Ozbilgin, a Turk living in London, offered to find relatives with the help of an email contact in Turkey. "Yesterday I cried a gallon," he explained. "I don't want anyone else to feel they don't

But as the death count rose ever higher yesterday, the messages begging for help finding relatives continued to flood in.

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