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Mobilizing the Internet for Relief Efforts

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Mobilizing the Internet for Relief Efforts

Digital Life

Mobilizing the Internet for Relief Efforts

Mobilizing the Internet for Relief Efforts

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Hurricane Katrina fundraisers big and small are materializing all around the country, and many people are donating money over the Internet. Web sites are also making it possible for people beyond Katrina's path to share housing with storm evacuees.

ED GORDON, host:

Hurricane fund-raisers big and small are materializing all around the country. Many people are choosing to donate money online. Web sites are also making it possible for people beyond Katrina's path to share something else. NPR's Farai Chideya explains.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Homeowner Mark Ryan lives just outside the storm-affected area near Alabama's Mobile Bay.

Mr. MARK RYAN: The photographs of the massive damage in Biloxi, which is only about 60 miles south, southwest of here, it indicates there's going to be a huge housing need, and so I had a vacant house available that I was planning on using as a rental home, but while it is vacant, I thought it could be used to help some family that might not have a home for a period of time while they figured out what in the world they were going to do.

CHIDEYA: Multiply that generosity by the thousands, add the Internet, and you've got the latest technological twist on disaster response: do-it-yourself online relief. Wishing to offer stability to some stranded family, Ryan placed his property on craigslist, the free online classified site. The number of takers is still hard to gauge, but throughout the country, people with extra space are offering to house refugees for weeks or even months. Jim Buckmaster is chief executive of craigslist. The site, he suggests, merely dovetails with people's impulses in a crisis.

Mr. JIM BUCKMASTER (Chief Executive, craigslist): Human nature, what it is, and the American people, what they are, in a way it's not surprising, but when you look on our site, for instance, and just see hundreds of offers to not only provide housing for entire families but also to provide bus fare or air fare to those families to travel to where the housing is, it is very striking.

CHIDEYA: Those offering shelter online don't all live in the Gulf Coast region or even in the Southern United States. Phil Day lives outside Seattle. He connected with craigslist after another Web site routed him there. He found long lists of people offering money, supplies and housing for the storm evacuees. That's when Day and his partner decided they could take someone into the room their daughter's just vacated for college.

Mr. PHIL DAY: We're prepared to do it. I mean, hopefully, you know, it won't be more than we can handle, but, you know, it's just such an incredible set of circumstances down there that we feel like it's the least, you know, we can do to make the sacrifice. So we'll do whatever we can do.

CHIDEYA: Even as people reach across the red state-blue state divide to offer help, online house sharing has assumed an ideological twist. From the left, MoveOn.org is encouraging those on its mailing list to offer room to strangers. And Operation shareyourhome.org is supported by the Republican Party of Louisiana and evangelical Christian stalwart Gary Bauer. Farai Chideya, NPR News.

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