Typhoon Ketsana: How Facebook, Twitter and Plurk Helped Save & Unite the Filipinos

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The Philippines’ capital, Metro Manila experienced what could be the worst typhoon to ever hit the country in 4 decades, bringing in a month’s worth of rainfall in just 9 hours. Typhoon Ondoy (International name: Typhoon Ketsana) washed away houses, shanties and turned roads into raging rivers forcing residents to seek refuge on top of homes and cars where some even waited for 48 hours to be rescued. The government declared the nation in a state of calamity with certain areas suffering from 1-story deep flood water. To date, the death toll stands at 246 with over 400,000 families left homeless.

In the face of calamity in the digital realm, social networking sites saved the nation. On the same day, when everyone’s mobile signals were lost, people resorted to Facebook, Twitter, Plurk and even Yahoo! Messenger to connect to one another and check on everyone else’s status. Suddenly, what used to be a barrage of applications and quiz updates in Facebook turned into a reliable source of information of news on Typhoon Ondoy.

Personal interest were set aside and people were actively posting and re-posting information about missing people, where to find and give help and even posted reports on areas that badly needed government attention. In the face of national disaster and a short handed government, everyone was able to play a significant role in re-building the nation thanks to social networking sites.

A friend of mine was even able to save a life thanks Yahoo! Messenger. He received an SOS plea from one of his officemates exclaiming that they were trapped on the second floor of their home due to the flood and have not eaten for 2 days. With one private message, he was able to arrange a group to rescue the life of his officemate. Given the urgency where lives could be lost in matter of hours, minutes even, online and social networking sites provided real-time updates on the current state of the nation, making it the best medium to disseminate and receive information.

Aside from witnessing how Filipinos within the country reached out to physically help, those overseas were also able to play their part by donating to the Philippine National Red Cross via PayPal, with some even setting up their own collection centers in their respective countries in which donations will be couriered to the Philippines. Even Hollywood celebrities like Tyra Banks, Demi Moore and Deepak Chopra were able to send their sympathy via their respective Twitter accounts.

If there was a silver lining in the disaster that shattered our nation, it was witnessing how we Filipinos united to help one another with the aid of the web. Make shift relief centers were flooded with volunteers and good Samaritans who answered the call for help in various centers via Facebook status updates and mobile SMS. All relief centers were equally distributed with volunteers and relief goods as users updated one another on which centers were overflowing with help and which were undermanned. I personally went to a disaster stricken part of the metro to lend a helping hand; re-packing goods that will be donated to the less fortunate.

The relief center was overflowing with people eager to spare generous hours of their time. All social barriers were surpassed with the elites, middle class and even the poor sharing a room for a common cause. Being part of that gave me hope – witnessing how we Filipinos stood up to rebuild what the typhoon destroyed. Truly, Filipinos always rise during trying times. The harder the situation, the higher we rise. Given the unfortunate events that transpired over the weekend, the Filipino patriotism is awakened and it makes me even more proud to be a Filipino.

With the way people helped re-build the nation in the face of disaster using social networking sites as a medium, I’m excited to see how the same power of influence will play out in the coming 2010 elections.