Facebook friend an important resource for tornado victimsby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — As north Minneapolis residents continue to recover from the May 22 tornado, one man has become a primary information source for the community. It's all on a Facebook page he's set up that crosses the digital divide -- from online to paper form and word of mouth.
Many people still don't know the man behind the effort, but this week some neighborhood residents threw a party to honor his efforts.
"I hate anything to be under my name, because to me I just want it to be something for the community," said Peter Karre, the man behind the Facebook page.
Karre stands with his long dreds and sunglasses in a north Minneapolis parking lot, greeting people he didn't know last month. Jariland Spence hugs him like a son.
Spence is a pastor at the church next door. After the tornado, her daughter Jasmine kept Spence informed about what was going on.
"She was getting all this information off this Facebook page," said Spence. "Whenever I got needs from my neighborhood, I would call her and tell her what we need and she would post it on Facebook, and within minutes people got what they need."
Spence soon learned Karre was the man who had set up the Facebook page.
Karre, 30, doesn't even live in Minneapolis anymore. He moved from Minneapolis to New York last year. He was in his New York apartment on May 22 when his sister called to tell him a tornado was coming down her street. The phone went dead.
Karre, an information security specialist, went online to see what he could learn. He was anxious to do something, and the first thing that came to him was a Facebook page. He called it Minneapolis Tornado.
"When I had the page, the whole point was to get more information on what exactly happened," he said.
The next day, Karre switched gears and started working on getting information out. He compiled it into a resource sheet and didn't sleep for days.
"I went according to priority: first thing shelter, next thing food, next thing medical, going on down the list," he said.
At the same time he began using the Facebook page to ask people to volunteer their help if they could.
But Karre still needed a way to get the resource sheet to the streets. He posted a message on the Facebook page, and Genesia Williams responded from Minneapolis. She made arrangements with a few printers to print off the resource lists to distribute to residents of the neighborhood.
That move was critical for a neighborhood with no other mode of communication except word of mouth. The resource sheet went everywhere, especially after the city started using it.
That drove traffic to Karre's Facebook page -- hits went up exponentially and have now reached two million. When a telephone company wouldn't respond to his phone calls about disrupted service in north Minneapolis, Karre posted it on Facebook and the company called him within hours to tell him the problem was fixed.
Karre did all this work from New York, but knew he could do more on the ground. Karre flew to Minnesota two weeks ago and, using the Facebook page, quickly organized one of the most successful donation drives since the tornado.
He was careful throughout to be transparent; the Minneapolis police had questioned his identity and motives, and were satisfied with the answers. But Karre didn't want to give anyone cause to doubt.
"There's always the one or two people who always kept trying to hint, 'Who are you? What are your intentions?'" he said. "I was like, let me not give anyone food or fuel to try and start controversy."
Karre plans to continue work on the north Minneapolis Facebook page; he says once he takes up a cause he feels responsible and gets attached.
But the thank you party was a goodbye of sorts, too -- Karre's now back in New York, looking for new consulting jobs and a way to pay his rent.
- All Things Considered, 06/17/2011, 5:54 p.m.