Amid Flood, Big Easy Paper Turns to Web

16 feet of water hasn't stopped a local New Orleans newspaper from keeping the information flowing out of the hurricane-ravaged city. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has turned to the Internet and its Web site to keep residents and evacuees informed of the latest on the situation.

For a time Monday night, it appeared that New Orleans had been spared the full wrath of Hurricane Katrina as most of the city remained dry. However, a serious break in a levee along Lake Ponchartrain caused water to flood into the city, which predominantly sits like a bowl below sea level.

Amid rising waters, the newspaper evacuated its headquarters in downtown New Orleans. "Water continues to rise around our building, as it is throughout the region. We want to evacuate our employees and families while we are still able to safely leave our building," a representative for the paper wrote in the newspaper's Web log at 9:40am Tuesday.

Since then, the paper has been operating out of Houma at the offices of the Houma Courier and in Baton Rouge, both about 60 miles away from the city. Each day, the paper will release a special "hurricane edition" electronically in PDF format, and it has also promised continuous updates through its family of Web logs on NOLA.com.

As the waters continue to rise in the city of New Orleans and the situation becomes more desperate with mandatory evacuations of over 30,000 refugees and ongoing rescue efforts, information has become a hot commodity. Electronic communication is sparse, with cell phone networks largely out of service.

In turn, the Times-Picayune has kept the reports streaming on its Web log. News has ranged from the best methods to communicate with friends and family to specific reports on the status and damage in communities all over the city. The paper has also used its blog to post more in-depth stories from reporters as they are written.

"One team was stationed uptown and was preparing to fan out again this morning. Sports Editor David Meeks is one of those working in region right now and said team members will attempt to get deeper into the West End and Lakeview areas today," read a Wednesday morning news posting.

As more resources were made available, the paper planned to move further into New Orleans to see what it could find.

Continuous updates are making the site one of the best sources of information following Katrina's widespread destruction. In contrast, national news networks have been slow to get specifics from those inside the city.

Since a large number of the Times-Picayune's readers have evacuated the area and are most likely in places that have power and access to the Web, the paper feels the Internet is the best way to get information to concerned citizens.

"They're very anxious about what's happened to their homes, and we're doing our best to get the information to them," said Dan Shea, the Times-Picayune's managing editor.

The approach seems to be working well, with other news outlets even picking up stories from the blog. One such report provided early indications of the unrest that has taken hold in some parts of the city, as refugees began looting convenience stores for food and water.

"Law enforcement efforts to contain the emergency left by Katrina slipped into chaos in parts of New Orleans Tuesday with some police officers and firefighters joining looters in picking stores clean," the paper reported.

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