Marylanders searching for friends, relatives turn to Internet postings

With phone service out in many Gulf Coast areas, hopes are pinned on Web

September 10, 2005|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The Internet posting is ominous: An insulin-dependent diabetic in his 70s has wandered away from family members amid the miseries of the New Orleans convention center and hasn't been heard from since Sunday.

Days after posting that message, Bryant Woods of Odenton was still waiting for word of his father, Alphonse Woods Sr., who had evacuated from his home near the French Quarter to seek shelter from Hurricane Katrina.

The younger Woods is among dozens of people in Maryland who have turned to the Internet to try to re-establish contact with friends or family on the Gulf Coast, where phone service is out in many areas.

In some cases, the effort has brought success. In others, the vigil goes on.

After more than a week of silence, Massey Rausch of Solomons Island got word that Lilo Wilson - her "best friend on the face of the earth" - was safe in Virginia.

"I keep feeling like my heart's going to explode," Rausch said. "We are all beside ourselves."

In Montgomery County, Louisiana evacuee Judy Lusk - who had been frantic after being cut off from her grown son in Jefferson Parish since the hurricane - was ecstatic after hearing from Sean Lusk late Wednesday.

Lusk's ordeal lasted more than a week before she received a phone call from her son, a lieutenant in the Jefferson Parish sheriff's department, just before midnight.

"He said he saw my notice," said Judy Lusk, who left the parish before the storm and is staying with her sister in Silver Spring. Lusk said her son hadn't been in touch because he had been working around the clock on rescue efforts.

"The sheriff wouldn't let any of his officers contact anybody until he said so," she said. "Our sheriff didn't want any bad information getting out that isn't true."

Woods, who turned to the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Web site, nola.com, to seek information on his father, thought he had received similar good news Wednesday when the name Alphonse Woods showed up on a Red Cross list of those who had been accounted for.

It turned out to be his brother Alphonse Woods Jr., a truck driver who had been in touch with his family all along.

Bryant Woods said his father left the chaotic and filthy convention center to head for the Superdome in search of help. The son was hopeful that his father would show up in a Veterans Affairs hospital or a shelter in another state.

"I'm hoping he didn't pass out in the heat," the son said. If the family doesn't hear from his father soon, he said, he will probably drive to the Gulf Coast to search for him.

The communications difficulties since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast have brought a proliferation of Web sites devoted to accounting for the missing and spreading news of the found.

Lisa Ojeda of Laurel said she puts up notices about Jovian Jenkins, her fiance's best friend, anywhere she can. As of yesterday, she had heard nothing. "If I see links, I just keep posting," she said.

Jenkins, 30, has been out of touch since the storm, and Ojeda said the silence is "scary."

Rausch, who lived in New Orleans for six years, posted notices on missing-persons databases this week inquiring about Wilson and Anna May Carnesi, an elderly woman Rausch met while working with a nonprofit housing group.

She received good news about both of them Thursday. Wilson, a Tulane University employee, called to say she had gotten out of New Orleans.

"I think she was just in shock," Rausch said. "She said, `I could not talk.'"

A physical therapist in Shreveport, La., saw Rausch's posting and let her know that Carnesi, whom she described as "the grandmother everyone wishes they had, right down to the bat-wing eyeglasses," was safe in that city.

Rausch was struck by the role the Internet played in the disaster. "It's really changed our world," she said.

Rosemary McMahon of Harwood was relieved to learn, after posting her inquiry, that the Ursuline Sisters had been evacuated from the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans. But as of yesterday, she had not heard from her old friend Sheila Connolly.

McMahon's concern for her friend was tinged with sadness over the fate of New Orleans, where she lived for 12 years.

"Just the sight of the city I absolutely adore, just the thought that it's in this condition, it's surreal," she said.

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