There were also hastily-organized Facebook pages for the specific areas, like Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit cities, and Samar. Relatives messaged local politicians on their personal pages and turned to Facebook pages of the Philippine Red Cross and newspaper the Inquirer. Google set up a Typhoon Yolanda person finder database that had about 50,000 entries by Tuesday evening.

For many of these concerned overseas relatives, though, answers were not forthcoming. Much of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure was knocked out and electricity down in the days after the storm passed. Smart Communications, which has about 60% of the country’s mobile phone subscribers, set up battery-power satellite phone stations in Tacloban to allow free calls, and deployed the Thuraya SatSleeve, which turns an iPhone into a portable satellite phone.

Without electricity to power cell phones and limited reception, some families in the Philippines turned to an old-fashioned messages, writing notes on scraps of paper that were then collected by a reporter from television station GMA, broadcast and published on its website.

“Don’t worry we’re all safe, except the wrecked house. Ging-Ging and Son was found dead,” read one.

Many read simply “I’m alive!”

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