They’ve created group Facebook pages to trade information. Some have scoured amateur and news video clips on Twitter for any familiar landmarks. Others have turned to calling and messaging reporters in the disaster zone.
For displaced Florida Keys residents and relatives of those stuck on the islands, the search for information about the effects of Hurricane Irma has become increasingly frustrating because all cell service and internet connections are down.
It’s especially frustrating in the digital age when we’ve become used to instant tweets, live Facebook streams and text-message chains to get news.
Keith Stockett of Marathon evacuated to Mississippi and has been on his smartphone constantly, texting other friends stuck around the country. He’s also been on a Facebook page called FL Keys Resident Irma Communication.
“Nobody’s got any information. Everybody’s got bits and pieces,” Stockett said. “We’re like in a big black hole. We’d love to know what our homes are like but nobody can tell us.”
The page has become a hub for information trading and posting of news articles about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 hurricane.
On Tuesday afternoon, one post told of a Big Pine resident named Jeff Bennett who planned to shoot video on “a flyover of homes and businesses” on a private plane, if he could get fuel. The responses were quick.
“Niles Rd on the north side of Summerland please!”
“Can you please check breezy pines RV park. It is in big pine key … No one has heard anything about this RV park and there hasn’t been any pictures or video either.”
“Would love some news from No Name Pub, old wooden bridge area. Our house is squarely between the two.”
Given the immense geography — the Florida Keys stretches over 100 miles, connected with only one road in and out — the challenges to restoring working cell towers services are great. Cellular and internet companies are preaching patience.
“Our network crews continue to assess any damage, refuel generators, and work to restore wireless service to customers who may be impacted,” Sprint said in a statement on Tuesday. “As it becomes safe, we will continue to deploy more crews, portable generators and satellite trucks providing temporary wireless coverage across the area.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped relatives from around the world from scouring the Internet, and calling and messaging media members who were in the Keys.
Carmen Ladie, 40, of Merida, Mexico, called the Miami Herald trying to find any details about her ex-husband and the father of her daughter. Victor Ladie, 44, a chef, has lived in Key West for seven years.
Last she spoke to him before the storm, Victor Ladie was riding out the storm in the shelter of last resort at Key West High. Since then, she’s called the school, the city, and finally the newspaper after reading coverage.
“We’ve had no news,” Ladie said. “Nobody answers me.”
In some cases, the coverage has helped. George Ramos of Summerland Key rode out Hurricane Irma in a home directly on the Atlantic Ocean — and survived a terrifying storm surge that flooded the house’s ground level.
“It sounded like war,” Ramos told the Miami Herald on Sunday. “It sounded like explosives.”
As the storm was still swirling, back in Miami his son was furiously Googling.
“I was just searching Keys news. Cudjoe Key. Summerland Key,” said son Jorge Ramos, who is now waiting in Florida City to drive down to find his dad. “And then his name popped up. I was so relieved.”
Not all communication technology has failed. Some land lines — the few that are left anyway — survived intact in Key West.
On Simonton Street in Key West, word soon got out about a woman named Patricia, whose $13 old-fashioned phone was still working. For years, neighbors have gently ribbed her for keeping the line and shunning cell service.
But since the storm, Key West firefighters and neighbors have been streaming to her home to call loved ones around the country. A Herald reporter even used her phone to dictate storm coverage hours after the eye passed over the Keys.
“I don’t mind it all,” Patricia said on Tuesday. “We care for one another. This is what we do. It’s old island life.”