Saved by the social network
I woke last Thursday morning wondering whether my sister was dead or alive.
That day, the Brisbane River was expected to peak at 5.5 metres.
Suze lives in the city’s west, near Ipswich.
She’d had no power for 48 hours. The local shops had run out of food. She had to feed three children under the age of five.
Fortunately, she still had her sense of humour.
“It’s a good thing I’m breastfeeding,” she quipped. “I might have to wet nurse the entire neighbourhood.”
All I could think of was the last scene in The Grapes of Wrath, when a starving man suckles at the breast of Rose of Sharon.
Late that night, Suze considered driving to Dad’s place – an hour’s journey across town.
“Don’t!” I pleaded with her. “So many people have been swept away in their cars. Please, don’t risk it.”
At times like these, the mobile phone was her only source of comfort – and information.
With no power, many relied on mobile social networking sites to find out which suburbs were at risk, what roads had been closed, and where to find food and shelter.
Twitter and Facebook – often vilified for eroding traditional means of communication – connected people, and saved lives.
The latest tweet reads: @Annieb25 URGENT & DESPERATE: HELP NEEDED Spalding Crescent, Goodna. No assistance to date. No water no food. HELP.
Then there’s the hash tag #bakedrelief, set up by Digella – a Nigella aficionado – who coordinates residents to bake treats for those in need.
Which street in New Farm is the hardest hit? Let’s send them emergency pumpkin scones!
Half an hour before I went to air on Radio 2ue last Thursday, I read an urgent tweet: Please help! Parents in Gympie – no contact for two days. Can anyone find them? Ali.
I called Ali in Melbourne. She was desperate.
“I don’t know where they are. Communications are down. They’re in one of the worst hit areas,” she cried, as her kids screamed in the background.
She agreed to do a radio interview at the top of the program to spread the word.
On air, her relief was palpable. “I just spoke to mum and dad a minute ago – they’re OK! She said. “No power, but everyone’s in the street, eating damper!”
That’s the power of social media.
The next day Ali’s kids made a short film about the incident. Her young son Drew pretends to be Superman, saving nan and pop from the Queensland floods.
I glance again atTtwitter. There’s another message from @Annieb25 Everyone … loads of help has been sent to Spalding Crescent, Goodna. THANK YOU ALL SOOOO MUCH.
Then there was the story of the cancer patient in Auchenflower who needed to boil her water.
Several retweets later, she had people lining up on her doorstep with camping stoves.
This particular call for help was sent by the Brisbane City Council’s twitter account.
@brisbanecityqld, @QPSmedia and @ENERGEX deserve plaudits for their accurate and timely information.
Ditto @ljLoch from Republic Consulting for retweeting salient comments from the worst affected areas.
On the set of Sky News on Tuesday and Wednesday, I accessed tweets from these reliable sources for immediate broadcast.
But Twitter still has its detractors.
The news website Crikey last week blamed the microblogging service for inaccurate information regarding a public transport shutdown in Brisbane.
But that’s simply not true: The initial source was the TransLink website.
Most messages map the tears and triumphs, the heartache and heroism of this unprecedented disaster.
I was born and raised in Brisbane.
We were living in Brighton during the 1974 floods. While water lapped the doorstep of our small fibro shack, it reached rooftops in the next street.
For my sister, history had repeated itself.
A frantic phone call on Thursday morning found her high and dry – along with her sense of humour.
“If I have to play another game of Uno, I will cut my arm off,” she said.
As for the food situation: “It’s amazing what you can do with Gravox.”
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