Landlocked Vermont doesn't typically feel the brunt of a tropical cyclone. So, when Tropical Storm Irene barreled its way through the state on Sunday, no one could have predicted that days after the storm, the Green Mountain State would be on everyone's mind as one of the worst hit areas in the nation.
It wasn't the winds that brought the state to its knees, but rather that torrential rains and devastating floods. Hundreds of Vermont roads remain closed or badly damaged and dozens of communities have been devastated by the flooding from Irene.
It used to be that when a disaster happened, we overwhelmed the local officials and public telephone numbers with our questions and concerns.
Now, we turn to Facebook.
With the power returned to most households in Vermont, residents took to Facebook to share their stories, ask questions, and get answers from their neighbors.
Some use the pages as catharsis, while others use them like a good old fashioned community bulletin board.
Take a look at some of the posts on Vermont Flooding 2011, all of which came in within a one hour timespan.
User Leigh Vincent warns:
PLEASE alert everyone that flood mud may be toxic and can contain sewage, etc. Helpers should wear rubber boots, rubber gloves and dust masks and should wear clothes they can take off and put in plastic bags so they will only be in their vehicles in clean clothes. Also there should be plenty of places to wash hands, sanitizer gel, etc around for people to use to clean up.
Katherine Buell asks:
Does anyone know if I can donate crops from my garden to the local food shelf? I am in Waterbury. Thanks.
Susan Albert offers:
I am a student at Keene State College and was wondering if there was anywhere in southern VT who would need volunteers to help out this weekend. I am trying to get a group together to help out and a specific location(s) would be great
Nick Lee asks:
Anyone know the best way to get from Rutland to White River Jct? I'm assuming parts of Rt. 4 are still closed anyone know about detours?
A few minutes later, Robin Nagot answers:
2 options: Go up to Burlington and down 89, or go down to Springfield and up 91. Route 4 is closed in Mendon/Killington and it looks like it will be for quite some time. I work in Woodstock, so I've been keeping a close eye on alternate routes.
The whole operation is surprisingly efficient. Local authorities simply don't have the time or manpower to handle these types of things. Moreover, Facebook users in the state are freely offering there time to aid fellow Vermonters.
In some instances, it appears that local authorities are actually using the sites to monitor the situation. The Today Show reported the case of a granddaughter and her grandmother who needed assistance. Because the granddaughter could not use the roads out from her house, she posted on a Facebook page that her grandmother needed assistance. Word got to police, who then used an ATV to get the grandmother to safety.
In another case, one woman posted this morning:
If anyone can help I'm looking for information about the Chester area my sister in VA can't get ahold of her friend Kym Kendall he lives right off Rt 103 use to run a big antique shop... If anyone has any information please let me know!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Instantly, two people responded saying that they would be driving through the area today and would make inquiries.
These are just a few of the many examples of Facebook users coming together to aid in a time of need.
This isn't the first time Facebook has been used in the wake of a natural disaster, but to see it working so well, and to see local authorities using the information for their own benefit is rather astonishing.
If anything, Facebook will likely play an even larger role in disaster relief in years to come as it becomes a digital town hall of sorts, where those affected can inject their voice into the discussion, share ideas, ask questions, and message their answers to a group of strangers.