Social media shines strobe light on devastation in Bahamas

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As Hurricane Dorian hovered over the Bahamas Monday, people who live there turned to social media to communicate with the outside world.

Residents are using social media platforms like Facebook and Whats App to check on each other, put out messages for help, and show the devastation they’re experiencing.

Bahamas native, restaurant owner, and chef Tim Tibbitts spoke to FOX 13 News via Skype as he waited out the storm in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama.

“It's still blowing well over 100 miles per hour here right now, and now going on 15, 16 hours straight.  We still have probably 10 hours or 12 hours more to go,” said Tibbitts.

After the landfall in nearby Abaco, Tibbitts said he saw videos pop up online of massive storm surge and damage. He is one of several locals using social media apps to stay connected.

“We knew how bad things were going to get before it got here,” he said. “We set up a multi-island Whats App group with Dorian updates."

Shanae Roberts posted pictures online of the "most traumatic" 24 hours of her life.

"I've never seen anything like this, ever,” she said.

The mother of two was in her apartment while Dorian pummeled her city of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.

"I have a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old and they're in the house, and they're just looking at me like, ‘Mom, you've got to be our pillar of strength,’ and I am there just trying not to freak out,” Roberts said.

The family took shelter in a bathroom right after the shutters flew off the windows and their windows shattered.

"We're praying that everything is going to work out, and the bathroom started to cave in, the tiles, from the impact of the wind. It was like a tornado hitting the building, and caused the tiles to fall down. We were just terrified," she said.

Tatyana Rolle, who grew up on the island, says she has watched the destruction unfold on social media.

"I have seen some Facebook-lives from some friends who are there, and it is bad,” Rolle said.

In an effort to do anything from her home in Texas, Rolle set up a group on Facebook called “Abaco Family Connect” where families can post about their loved ones they have yet to hear from.

"It’s very heart-wrenching to know that so many people are still out there, and their loved ones do not know they're OK, or what's going on,” Rolle said.

She says right now, it looks like the island is beyond repair; a shell of the community she grew up in.

"It's just filled with beautiful, strong people who would be willing to give the clothes off their back to anyone in need,” Rolle said. “A lot of us abroad who can't be home, it hurts us. It literally hurts us, just to watch all of these strong people literally lose everything."

During natural disasters, more and more people are posting to Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

University of South Florida’s social media professor Kelli Burns said the apps become resources for information.

“It also can help with family and friends who don't live in the area that you're fine or that you're not fine and that you need help,” Burns said. “A lot of people do turn to these sites and are maybe not sure what websites to go to or what government sites or news sites. But they're all using social media.”

And as families search for news of their loved one’s safety, people like Tibbitts who are capable of posting from the Bahamas are passing along what they can.

“For us, it's also about trying to make sure that we raise awareness for everybody, trying to make sure that people are still looking for them,” said Tibbitts.