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New communication tools keep flood victims in touch

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Connor texts
Connor Wright and his friends communicate via text messages about what's happening with the Red River flood and about their volunteering efforts.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Leaders in Fargo-Moorhead are using various tools to keep people abreast of what's happening with the Red River. River levels are updated every hour on Twitter. Ask some teens and tweens how they're using Twitter, and here's what they'll tell you:

"I haven't quite figured out twitter yet," said Connor Wright, a sophomore at West Fargo High School. 

"Twitter? I don't know much about twitter either. I really don't go on that," said Shandi Mack.

Texting friends
Connor Wright and Shandi Mack use Facebook, MySpace, instant messaging, and text messages to communicate with friends and family about how they're doing during the Red River flood.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

"No. I've never even heard of that," said another teen. 

"It's for the older generations," said Wright.

Twitter hasn't caught on with Haley Riebhoff Calhoun, either. She's an eighth grader from Fargo. She and her friends prefer other technology.

"Cell phones. We text a lot And computer: Facebook, MySpace, the usual," said Calhoun.

Calhoun has been volunteering with the sandbagging effort, because the flood is affecting her friends, and she wants to help out as much as she can. 

She uses her phone, instant messaging and social networking sites to find out how her friends are doing.

On this day, Bria Taber is volunteering with Calhoun, too. She says text messaging has come in handy to coordinate trips to sandbagging sites.

Taber says her friends tell her she's lucky she can leave her house whenever they see her Facebook status updates noting that she's sandbagging. She says others comment back and forth about their experiences as volunteers.

Some of these teens, like Shandi Mack, are even helping out at friends' houses.

Texting about the flood
Connor Wright said he's relying on text messages to communicate his friends to let them know he's okay.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

"One of my friends is in a flood zone, kind of, and she asked me to help her move her grandparents' stuff to the front, and my friends are kind of worried about other people, if they're not affected, or they're worried for their families or close by people," said Mack.

Besides text messaging, teens also consider instant messaging particularly convenient.  

Luckily, the river hasn't touched Connor Wright's  home at all. But he found out his friend, across the river in Moorhead, wasn't in good shape. They talked using the chat feature on Facebook. 

"Facebook chat could be improved, but I use that. And my friend Lyndi Williams, she lives over in Moorhead, and their house had to be evacuated. By communicating with her [through facebook chat] and also through phones, she's now living with us. And her folks are out in Brainerd. And that's one way it helped," said Wright.

Wright also relies heavily on text messages, even though he doesn't have any formal text messaging plans. He says he might get in trouble for that soon. 

Lyndi Williams
Lyndi Williams was forced to evacuate her south Moorhead home. She uses her computer and Facebook to keep friends and family up to date on her condition.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

But his friend Lyndi Williams, who evacuated her south Moorhead home, doesn't have a cell phone, so she relies on the computer to stay on top of what's going on right now. 

"I've really been using a lot of Facebook. That's been a really good way to keep in touch with my family while they're out of town. And with my friends who are around here, it really helps, because a lot of them are on Facebook, too," said Williams. "So I can kind of see how they're being affected, if they need help, how they're doing, whether they moved out or not yet."

Williams says her friends have been commenting on her Facebook status and sending lots of good wishes. She's even using Facebook to communicate with her parents in Brainerd.

All these forms of technology are relatively new both to grown-ups and children. The difference is most of the adults around now fought the big flood in 1997 and many of these kids are too young to even remember it.