The Internet is spreading more than just information about Hurricane Katrina, it's giving people in the far corners of the United States the power to offer storm victims tangible help in the form of jobs and housing.
From Richmond to Alaska, Americans are filling Web logs and Internet sites with personal pledges of relief.
"My Metal Stamping/Tool & Die Company has job openings we can offer in unskilled, or skilled, position," a Chicago man posted on the popular site Craigslist, along with his name, phone number and even the offer of a studio apartment at subsidized rates.
There was an offer on Nola.com, the Web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, of a live-in nanny job in Staten Island, and the site had a listing from a Houston temp agency looking for information technologists. One posting called out to displaced diesel mechanics in Mississippi and Alabama: "We have a mobile home for a family of 4 or more and steady work."
The Wyndham hotel chain used Craigslist to post a notice to all its displaced employees, explaining how they'll be paid over the next 60 days and how to arrange places to stay, as well as including tips for putting children in out-of-town schools.
Some of the most personal offers are for housing, such as a posting from Renee Kapalka of Madison, Ohio.
"[W]e have a huge basement which can serve as an apt. and have lots of love to help you through these horrific times -- email me," she posted on Hurricanekatrinasurvivors.com, Craigslist and Nola.
Cash donations flowed to traditional philanthropic channels like the American Red Cross -- nearly 1 million people visited the organization's Web site on Wednesday, more than 32 times the average amount of traffic, according to consulting firm ComScore Networks Inc. But it remained unclear whether individual job and shelter offers were reaching the homeless victims stranded without phone or Internet service.
"I just feel like it's our calling," said Kapalka, who's become a news junkie, reading every detail about the hurricane. "For whatever reason, every time I see those heartfelt stories, I just get chills; I start crying," she said. After consulting with her husband and three daughters, Kapalka made her huge furnished basement available for six months "or whatever it takes."
Similar offers abounded. Nola.com, which has a "Homes Available" link on its home page, posted offers from far-flung areas: "virginia home for family"; "alaska home has room for 4"; "Small Room in Chicago burbs." Yesterday afternoon, the list of offers on that site alone grew at a rate of about one a minute.
Craigslist highlighted the list of cities affected by Katrina in red, where similar postings -- "Housing in NJ for Katrina victims" and "2br -- Free Condo For Katrina Victims Durango Colorado" -- went up throughout the day. Other sites, like Katrinahousing.org, Openyourhome.com and others offered to match housing offers with victims' families.
Some postings specified preferences of single women and children. Others offered pet housing, or cautioned against cat allergies. Some sought to house children orphaned by the hurricane. Still others reached to members of their subcommunities: "will host Irish dancer and family" and "Atlanta Gay male couple has open guest room available for other gay/lesbian single/couple in need."
But as images of the exodus out of New Orleans and of the Superdome's tired and weary circulated on the Internet yesterday, Kapalka wondered whether her offer would ever reach a needy family.
"I haven't received any responses," Kapalka said. Not a single e-mail or phone call. "Maybe only a few people can get access to it," she said, "or maybe we're just too far."
Jennifer Drake yesterday posted a free-housing offer on Nola and on Hurricanehousing.org, a site hosted by political Web site MoveOn.org. She also is talking to a Mississippi woman she knows from on an online chat site, Frugal-families.com, about taking her into her Cincinnati area home.
"My husband and I said we're willing to do whatever it took. It's a natural disaster. It could happen to anyone. I just thought: What would I want people to do for me?"