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Tornado victims flock to Facebook for helping hand

Buildings damaged by a chain of tornadoes are seen in West Liberty
Buildings damaged by a chain of tornadoes are seen in West Liberty

By Mary Slosson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Residents of the storm-ravaged communities in the Midwest are reaching out to each other, neighbor to neighbor, through social media sites to coordinate disaster relief and share information.

A chain of fast-moving tornadoes spawned by massive thunderstorms cut a swath of destruction from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, killing at least 39 people and leaving many residents homeless and seeking food, clothing, and shelter.

With phone connections spotty as emergency workers tried to repair downed power lines and clear debris, Facebook pages -- accessible by cell phone, mobile device, or computer -- have proven a go-to source for communities to assist one another.

In Morning View, Kentucky, Piner Baptist Church member Bea Angel turned to a Facebook group coordinating help in northern Kentucky to ask for flashlights, baby bottles, baby juice, sippy cups, newborn diapers and other items the church was collecting.

"A gentleman at our church lost everything on Friday and only has the clothes on his back. Looking for men's size 46 pants and XXL shirts," Jennifer Farwell Jewell of Independence, Kentucky, wrote on the page. Community members responded immediately with offers to purchase or donate clothing.

"This type of care and concern is what makes Facebook, and the internet well worth having!" said Timothy Anneken of Fort Wright, Kentucky, on the Facebook page.

At a firehouse in London, a town in the southeast corner of Kentucky, dozens of volunteers gathered to help with salvage efforts and other residents drove up to donate boxes of pizza to the hungry.

One volunteer leader there, 31-year-old medical assistant Heather Reynolds, issued a call on her Facebook page for gloves to protect against the cold, plastic tarps to close holes gouged into homes and clear plastic containers to protect keepsakes found strewn on the ground and threatened by rain and snow already pelting the area.

"Well it looks a lot better than it looked yesterday. However, it will take years for things to be right," Reynolds said.

Dozens of residents in the storm-hit areas have already taken to Facebook to begin planning fundraisers, from raffles and concerts to dance-a-thons, for when the first wave of disaster recovery is over.

"Last few days, we've kept up on the news related to the storms, traded information about who was okay or not, passed notice of missing people, and then the good news that they were found," said Paul Schewene on Facebook, adding that the Facebook groups were "a lot of friends and neighbors reminding them that they're not alone, and that we'll all do what we can to get 'em back on their feet and moving toward recovery."

Critter-conscious residents have even created Facebook groups for pets lost and found during the tornadoes, with the occasional happy reunion complete with heart-warming photos of owners reunited with their best friends.

(Additional reporting by John D. Stoll in Kentucky; Editing by Peter Bohan)

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