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Haitians Use Range of Technologies, Old and New, In Effort to Reach Relatives

Communication in and around the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince is at a standstill after Tuesday's devastating earthquake. With cell phone service and landlines down, Haitians around the world are seeking out any means possible to reach their families. Their efforts have shown the importance of both old and new technologies in getting the word out.

When Tuesday's massive earthquake made communication by phone virtually impossible, many Haitians turned to the Internet.

Social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook quickly became a bridge between those inside the country and their family members on the outside.

Haitian-American Yves Colon, a journalism professor at the University of Miami, says the sites proved crucial for him and many others during the first hours of the disaster.

"The only thing that was working, spottily even, was Internet, and a few people were sending out messages to Twitter. That was the only way really for us to get a sense of what things were, what the situation was like and how people were and who was hurt and who was not hurt," he said.

With many local sources of information paralyzed, others turned to Haitian radio stations outside the country for answers.

Hundreds of people have reached out to stations in Florida, New York and Pennsylvania looking for news about their relatives.

Broadcasters, like VOA's Washington D.C.-based Creole Service, which airs in Haiti have been able to maintain contact with the country using shortwave radio frequencies.

Ronald Cesar, the chief of the Creole Service says he received several calls for help.

"I got several calls from Haitians in the Washington metro area asking me how they could send messages to their relatives in Haiti, because communication is down, not too many people can call a number or reach a number in Haiti," he said.

The Creole Service has now set up a hotline to help Haitians both inside and outside of the country communicate with their loved ones.

"The way it works, we have set up a phone number, and it is toll free, we accept all the charges. The number is 202-205-9942 and they have to press number 42, and then they will hear a greeting and they can leave their messages. What the Creole service does once it gets those messages, we play them in our broadcasts so that people everywhere can hear them," he said.

Cesar says shortwave technology, which dates back to the 1920s, is one of the best ways to reach people in Haiti during a time like this, when most local radio stations are unable to broadcast.

VOA and other news outlets are also using pages on Facebook and Twitter to share information, further demonstrating that when it comes to communicating in a disaster, all types of technology are critical.