Web becomes virtual crisis centre in NZ quake

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Victims and survivors of the New Zealand earthquake are using the web as a virtual crisis centre, searching for missing people and even offering survivors a place to stay.

Information is flowing out from Christchurch to sites such as web giant Google's Crisis Response service where people can add or request information on individuals.

The site's person finder tool has records on around 8,000 people in the area. But a random search illustrates the confusion in the shattered city.

People searching for a man named John Bing have been told in one message "fatal injuries sustained as result of continuously falling debris", whereas another message says he is "safe and sound, with other Telecom employees."

Google offered similar services for victims of the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, and later used its Google Earth satellite imagery service to capture the scale of the devastation.

The site (www.google.com/crisisresponse/christchurch-earthquake.html) has emergency telephone numbers and other resources such as a link to donate to the New Zealand Red Cross.

And the New Zealand Herald newspaper's website has scrolling updates from micro-blogging site Twitter and social media giant Facebook. (www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c-id=1&objectid=10708000)

"In our opinion, the location based social networking will increasingly become an important tool during times of crisis," James Griffin, spokesman for social media monitoring firm SR7, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Another site, eq.org.nz, is helping take pressure off emergency services by plotting official and user-generated information and reports on a Google Map.

And people from all over New Zealand have rushed to use Facebook to open up their homes to people whose houses may now be piles of rubble.

"If anyone needs to get away from the city we have space on a three acre block-have a spare room, own water tank, can accommodate anyone that comes regardless of space," wrote Rebekka. "Room for animals as well!"

"Large house on a farm close to town with room for 4 plus caravan with room for 7. Our thoughts go out to you all at this time we would love to help," wrote Ange from Inglewood.