Bloggers, twitter help Mumbai residents contact relatives

Bloggers pitched in offering information and other help to people worldwide as Indian police and commandos battled it out Thursday with armed militants in two top hotels and a residential complex in south Mumbai.
The attacks late Wednesday by militants using guns and grenades in Mumbai did however appear different than previous ones, because it targeted top five-star hotels in Mumbai’s business district. Around 100 people are feared dead in the shootouts. Some foreign residents at the hotel are being held hostage by the terrorists.

On “Mumbai Help“, bloggers offered to help users get through to their family and friends in the city, or to get information on them.

Several people left their telephone numbers on the blog site – volunteering to get information for folk whose relatives or friends may have been affected by the terrorist attack.
Some posts sought information about specific individuals. For instance, posts put up by Chabad House, Mumbai – a Jewish centre in the Colaba section of the city – asked for information about Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg.

The centre offers daily prayer services and Torah classes, and is a popular hangout among Israeli tourists. It provided a number to call “if anyone hears about them or any Israelis.”
According to the centre’s newsletter before the attacks a friend of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg reported receiving an e-mail from him at 11:30 p.m. local time. It said the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai was in also touch with the rabbi, but the line was cut in the middle of the conversation. 

Mobile and fixed line circuits to Mumbai were clogged by the large number of people trying to get in touch with people in Mumbai after the crisis. A significant number of the people trapped in the hotels are foreigners, according to media reports.

More people are likely to use mobile phones and technologies like SMS (Short Message Service) to get in touch with relatives than go online, because the number of mobile users outstrips online users in Mumbai. But with the phone lines clogged, some people have realized that going online may be a good alternative.

People posting on the Mumbai Help blog included a sister trying to get in touch with her brother on a mobile number. A volunteer tried the number, and promptly reported on the blog that the number was busy but she would continue to try.

quot;We do what we can,” said Dina Mehta, an ethnographer by profession, who is blogging on Mumbai Help. “We are certainly providing people emotional support at this difficult time,” she added.
Mumbai Help’s teams were on Thursday checking out if hospitals have put out the list of the injured and dead, to pass on the information to bloggers and callers. “Until now the lists of dead or injured are not yet put up, which is surprising,” Mehta said Thursday afternoon.

Micro-blogging site Twitter is also being used to pass on information, or to just express feelings about the terrorist attack, and sometimes about the inadequate coverage of the crises by some Indian TV channels.

The Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the locations attacked by the terrorists, has used SMS to get its help line and other important numbers to anxious relatives who had people living or visiting the hotel at the time of the attack.

A trapped hotel guest used his mobile phone to send an MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) video clip of police action to a local TV channel, IBN Live. The channel has been encouraging witnesses to send MMS as part of their citizen journalism program.

Hi-tech firms won’t leave  

Meanwhile spokespersons from big technology companies have said Wednesday’s attacks in Mumbai are unlikely to lead them to change their strategies for India.

“It is sad that this has happened, but we are confident that India will bounce back to normalcy,” said Vidya Natampally, director of strategy at Microsoft Research India.
The terrorist attacks will not change Microsoft Research’s plans in India. “We are committed to staying on in India,” Natampally added.

Dell has issued a travel advisory to its staff, advising caution and due diligence when traveling to India, said a spokeswoman for the company. “That is the only measure we have taken,” she added.

A large number of technology companies including Oracle, Microsoft, and Dell run large software development and call center operations in India. But ever since the threat of terrorism increased since last year, these companies have tightened on security at their facilities.

“For a long time now, we have tightened on security at all our facilities,” the Dell spokeswoman said.

Indian outsourcing companies and Indian operations of multinational technology companies were not affected by the attacks, though the disruption of train service in Mumbai on Thursday could affect the movement of staff.

The Bombay Stock Exchange in south Mumbai has shut down on Thursday. The state government has ordered schools and colleges closed Thursday.

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