MINOT (AP) -- Danny Carlson was feeling rather helpless in Washington, D.C., this past June because he wasn't able to help fill sandbags or cart furniture out of evacuation zones in his hometown of Minot.
Chelsea Starr felt helpless days later as she sat confined to her Minot home, listening to reports of the Souris River rising over its banks and wreaking havoc on her town.
Carlson and Starr did what a lot of people were doing at the time. They turned to the Internet and sites like Facebook to break the isolation and reach out to other people.
"I wanted to help somehow, and there was really nothing I could do," Starr said. "One thing I know that people need in an emergency is they need information."
In listening to the police scanner in her home, she realized some of the information she was hearing about roads closing as floodwaters rose might be useful to other people. She began posting to Facebook as reliable information became available. She started her own clearinghouse page and posted to other Minot flood-related pages that were springing up. On one page, she saw a post from someone willing to bring bottled water to Minot to distribute. She called the number, provided information for the person on where to set up in north Minot and began spreading the word on Facebook about the availability of free drinking water.
Connections made on Facebook led to a successful campaign to get Tides of Hope to Minot to provide laundry services for people impacted by the flooding, she said.
"I really felt like I got to know people. ... It felt like you were in somebody's living room. It felt like you were in a big town hall meeting," said Starr, who teaches sociology at Minot State University. "It was very much a community conversation and people helping people. It wasn't chaos and panic like you would think in a disaster.
"It really, really disrupted the idea that panic is what happens because panic was the opposite of what happened. People might have been scared. People might have been upset. But people started talking to each other and getting things done," she said.
Starr wasn't the only one starting a Facebook page to share information. A number of sites sprang up as people locally and from a distance sought to help.
Facebook was the first place where people with resources could connect with people in need. Other pages provided a lost and found for items from basketball hoops to decks that washed away. One page set up to organize activities for kids, and another offers a sounding board for people to vent about the mud in their basements or complain about people who complain about the price of Black Eyed Peas tickets.
Facebook posters also were directing people to Web sites of the city, media and other groups that were putting out official information.
Ward County Emergency Management saw interest in its Facebook page multiply many times over with the flood, said acting director Amanda Schooling. Facebook proved useful in disseminating information, especially to displaced residents whose main news source came from their mobile devices. But it was just one information tool among many that were necessary to reach everyone, Schooling said.
Starr said Facebook's strengths are its immediacy, the ability to provide news as it happens and the opportunity it provides to ask questions and get answers.
Carlson, who was working on Capitol Hill, followed Minot's flood story on Facebook.
He noticed a lot of requests for help, but those requests quickly became buried as new posts were made. He realized that as Minot entered flood recovery, there were going to be a lot of needs and a lot of people with resources and it was going to be difficult to bring them together without some organization.
"I wanted to do something. It struck me that during these crisis and disaster situations, the two most important things, I think, are community and the Internet. When you have the two of those together, you can create change and just make things better," Carlson said.
He ran his idea for a website connecting requests with resources past a fellow 2002 Minot High graduate, Kayla Knudson, in Minneapolis. Within hours, Knudson responded with a logo and design, but neither had the computer knowledge to set up a website.
Knudson, a copywriter for an ad agency, presented the concept to a co-worker who had lived in Minot and knew Dustin Hansen, a Glenburn native and 2001 MSU graduate living in Minneapolis. Hansen works in Web design for MLT Vacations.
Carlson and Knudson sent their plan to Hansen for feedback and the next morning received his reply that he'd built the site.
Hansen said he was so excited about the idea, he pulled an all-nighter to get the site up and running using an open-source content management system.
"I think people are looking for something like this," he said. "It's just getting the word out and getting people started using it. It will be extremely helpful and useful."
The site, (www.rebuildthemagic.org) launched in early July. The site connects people needing labor with people willing to gut houses, but there are several other categories, including housing, toys and recreation, food, household, medical, infant, clothing, cleaning supplies and construction. The site is used by individuals, organizations and businesses.
Both Hansen and Knudson have been back to see the flood's destruction. Seeing the needs makes her feel good about the impact that the website can have, Knudson said.
"The Internet is so powerful in that way," Carlson added. "You don't have to be in a certain place for it to be an effective tool."
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com