NEW ORLEANS The fearful weather reports about Hurricane Gustav did not persuade Sheila Moragas to leave Old Jefferson, a suburb just west of New Orleans. It was the 38-year-old mother's dwindling ranks of online friends on the micro-blogging network Twitter.
One by one, Twitterers with nicknames like "HumidCity," "DomesticKitty" and "NOLADawn" pulled up stakes Sunday and left south Louisiana, live-blogging the building drama through text messages on their laptops, home computers and cell phones.
"It's been helpful," Moragas said. "It's less hyperbole, more reliable. There's also a lot of people panicking, but it's neighborly. It feels like you're talking to your next-door neighbors and trying to say, 'What's the best thing to do?' "
At noon Sunday, Moragas, known as "NOLAnotes" to her followers on Twitter, decided the wisest option was to leave, abandoning the New Orleans area in advance of a massive hurricane for the second time in three years.
"Baton Rouge. Final answer. Locked in," she declared online. "Finalizing our packing and then hitting the road." She vowed to deliver a blow-by-blow account on her blog.
Across a largely empty New Orleans, bloggers and online social networkers struggled with the question of whether they should leave or stay and ride out the storm while communicatingin real timeto friends and the world at large. Hundreds of new viewers signed on to Twitter to join the conversation.
"Look at this little thing," said Karen Gadbois, 53, a New Orleans blogger, referring to Twitter. "You can jump on it and jump off it. It's not a lifetime commitment. It's very useful."
Bloggers said their fascination with the possibilities of using online networks to track the storm and help others was fueled by new technology available to them as well as lingering frustration over the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago....
I have to say that I was a Twitter skeptic until recently. Right now it's giving me better news than the cable networks, which seem determined to justify their investment in covering this storm by turning it into a reality show.