At 10 p.m. on Monday, as the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the northeastern United States, filmmaker Sandi Dubowski posted an urgent online message.
Dubowski’s elderly parents had declined to leave their home in Manhattan Beach, a neighborhood of southern Brooklyn that sits on a small peninsula flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Sheepshead Bay on the other. The neighborhood is in Zone A, low-lying areas of New York City that the mayor had ordered evacuated on Sunday afternoon in advance of the looming storm.
“The water has made it up to the first floor of the house,” Dubowski wrote. “They have gone up to the 2nd floor. Is there anyone who can rescue them and their neighbors tomorrow morning before the next high tide? I am scared how much higher it will go. Their power and phone is out.”
A flurry of messages followed, including contact information for relief organizations and city officials and simple words of prayer and encouragement. Friends reposted the appeal to their own Facebook walls to widen its circulation.
“I’m so moved,” DuBowski said Tuesday, his voice betraying the strain of the night before. “Hundreds of people were forwarding this and searching for any avenue to help. It was a harrowing night.”
Finally, early Tuesday DuBowski got a piece of good news. A neighbor with a cellphone had reached his mother, who had barely enough time to tell him she was alright before the phone went dead. DuBowski duly posted the update on Facebook.
“I know they’re alive,” he told JTA. “I hope they’re OK. I think they’re OK.”
For many trapped in New York and other northeastern cities besieged by this week’s storm, social media outlets – principally Facebook and Twitter – instantly transformed into lifelines, enabling residents to commiserate, appeal for help (or offer some) and share information, including pictures and video from the storm.