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Digital Eye on Ivan

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2004; 11:24 AM

As Hurricane Ivan tears into the heart of the Southeast today after slamming into Alabama's Gulf Coast early this morning, the Internet is playing a key role in keeping the public informed about the powerful storm.

Government Web sites are providing some of the most up-to-date information on Ivan, but it's the regional and local newspapers from the areas hardest hit by Ivan that are particularly worth visiting.

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AL.com, the online home for three Alabama newspapers, has a live blog featuring regular updates on the storm's progress through the state and the resulting damage. From the same site, readers can check the doppler radar in Mobile, the Gulf town that took the brunt of Ivan's wrath when the storm came ashore. WPMI, the NBC affiliate in Mobile, has a live feed of its coverage of the storm, along with a link to a live police scanner from the Mobile Police Department.

The Sun Herald of Biloxi, Miss., said it launched its first-ever blog to cover Ivan. "Bloginator" Don Hammack, author of the paper's "Eye on Ivan" blog, wrote this morning: "Mississippi Power reports about 50,000 customers without power in South Mississippi. There are about another 20,000 customers of Coast Electric in the same situation." Hammack posted some updates from readers too, including this humorous bit: "Trent Roberts, a former Ocean Springs resident now living in Charlotte, N.C., writes: The best line of the night from the national media came from the Coast's own Robin Roberts, who was reporting for CNN from Mobile. This was about 9 p.m. or so: 'Larry King: Robin, are you in any danger? Robin: No ... Yes, Larry, we are, there's a hurricane coming! Hope everyone is safe and sound.'"

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a helpful collection of hurricane-related Web logs and online breaking news updates, including one on utility outages in the New Orleans area and another with updates on traffic and advice on when evacuees can try to return home. Links to Webcams in the French Quarter and other spots complement the text-based coverage of the storm.

The Times-Picayune site provides helpful information tailored to each part of the city, including links to updated alerts for parishes throughout Louisiana. There's a spot on the site for residents to share storm stories, with most of the messages seeking advice on safe evacuation spots and other tips. Unfortunately, ad placement on the site was not very timely, with pictures of million-dollar homes for sale alongside coverage of a storm that's likely to due significant damage to real estate all along the affected coastline.

The Northwest Florida Daily News of Ft. Walton Beach, which usually charges a subscription for its site, is making its coverage available for free as an Ivan-related public service. The beach-side city of Ft. Walton Beach in Florida's Panhandle was among the areas hit by the storm. Though most stories this morning on the home page had not been updated since before the storm hit, the site has some close-up photos showing the damage caused by several tornadoes that touched down yesterday on the neighboring city of Panama City.

The panhandle city of Pensacola was in the storm's path too, and the Pensacola News Journal site has community forums set up for people to post information on the storm. The site's homepage also has helpful links to information on where people can find gas, ice and other supplies and emergency contact information. The News Journal summed up the storm's force with a banner headline reading, "All Night Assault." There's also a link to some photos taken yesterday as the storm approached.

The Panama City News Herald and the Tallahassee Democrat also offer helpful hurricane-related links. The Tallahassee paper links to maps and updated coverage of the storm's impact.

As Ivan heads north into Alabama and Georgia, news organizations nowhere near the ocean are gearing up their storm coverage as well. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's online storm center is a particularly strong resource, with abundant links to weather-related sites.

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