Superstorm #Sandy: A Real-World Disaster, Socially Shared
Rose de Fremery

Superstorm Sandy wrought unprecedented destruction on the New York metropolitan area this week, barreling up the East Coast and making landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening. To date, the historic storm has claimed 127 lives in the Caribbean and the U.S., with an estimated $20 billion in damages so far.

The impact of Sandy’s arrival has been severely felt. More than 100 homes burned to the ground in Breezy Point, Queens. A building on 14th Street lost its façade, exposing the apartments inside to fierce wind and rain. Several Manhattan hospitals lost power and were forced to conduct risky evacuations of patients, including newborn babies, during the storm. Subway stations and tunnels completely flooded along with entire sections of the city bordering the Hudson and East Rivers. Airports flooded. A transformer exploded on 14th Street, emitting a bright blue ball of light seen for miles. Shortly afterward, half of Manhattan lost power and went dark. Millions were ultimately left without power across the eastern seaboard.

Increasingly concerned as the hurricane made its way inland, people turned to Twitter rather than traditional news outlets to stay abreast of the latest developments in real time. Local, state and federal agencies also used social media channels to issue public safety warnings and keep residents updated on recovery efforts. Twitter users, accustomed to a certain level of joviality and sarcasm on any given day, grew uncharacteristically sober as the storm progressed, according to the New York Times. It was also reported that, in a rush to share their personal experiences of the storm, Instagram users were at one point uploading 10 #Sandy photos a second.

Some hoaxes circulated online and were quickly debunked. A rumor surfaced claiming the New York Stock Exchange was under several feet of water—an allegation that was later found to be false. Photoshopped images of scuba divers in the subway system were also seen online. Twitter user @ComfortablySmug was called out for intentionally spreading false information about the developing situation in the metro area. Despite the misinformation being broadcast and then disproven, as Reuters reports, Twitter still proved to be an effective lifeline and invaluable source of timely information during the course of the hurricane.

There were some lighter moments shared over social media channels during the storm as well. Mayor Bloomberg’s charismatic sign language interpreter, Lydia Callis, became an instant Internet sensation. El Bloombito, a Twitter account poking fun at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s wobbly ways with the Spanish language, provided real-time comic relief to nervous New Yorkers as Sandy battered their city.

Although the storm has passed, the hardest hit areas will take months to recover. Our thoughts are with those who have lost their loved ones and their homes. There are many ways to help. NYC Service and The Salvation Army are two options worth considering.

Rose de Fremery is Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly.