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Many in U.S. Reach Out Via E-Mail After Attacks


September 12, 2001

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) — With phone lines sometimes jammed and emotions still running high, millions of Americans reached out to friends, relatives and colleagues via e-mail on Wednesday, a day after the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history shook the nation.

U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell urged Americans early on Wednesday to be patient as companies worked to keep basic communications systems, such as telephone and mobile phone services operating.

But many grew impatient. "I got through to about one out of 40 calls this morning," said one Manhattan resident, voicing a grievance echoed by many.

People also complained about jammed Internet networks, although e-mail for many was still the initial link with loved ones during the crisis.

"My friend e-mailed me Tuesday morning to say she wasn't coming because we were under terrorist attack. I thought she was joking, but when I called the airline, they were telling me things were closing down and I turned on the TV," said Jane Clark, an actress in Los Angeles.

Throughout the day, Clark said she received e-mails from friends in New York telling her they were okay. It was also through e-mail that she finally got word to another friend, worried about his father, who had scheduled a business appointment at the World Trade Center on Tuesday morning.

A sampling of Web exchanges between family members and friends over the past two days offer haunting glimpses of the shocking events that unfolded through the nation.

'WORLD SEEMS LIKE IT'S FALLING APART'

"I hope everything's all right out there. I watched the World Trade Center collapse this morning from my window at work. The world seems like it's falling apart," wrote a New York computer technician to his sister in California.

"My main concern was a cousin who works in Morgan Stanley. Luckily, he answered my e-mail almost immediately on Tuesday and said he was working on 27th street," said Bruce Forest, a Connecticut-based media consultant.

Investment firm Morgan Stanley Dean Witter had 3,500 employees in the World Trade Center, which was demolished by two hijacked airplanes on Tuesday. Another hijacked airplane plowed into the Pentagon. Thousands are feared dead.

A spokesman for America Online, a unit of AOL Time Warner (AOL.N), said AOL users sent 1.2 billion instant messages on Tuesday as they tried to seek out loved ones or simply vent their emotions, up 10 percent from a typical day.

"People appeared to be using Instant Messaging to reach out to people, to make contacts with friends and family. It was another communications option," said a spokesman for AOL. No figures were yet available for Wednesday.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O), which operates MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger services, declined to provide traffic figures, but said it was continuing work to ensure its lines for e-mail services were open during the crisis.

CHAT ROOMS SWELL WITH EMOTION

Internet chat rooms also swelled with emotion as conspiracy theorists, shocked well-wishers and revenge-seekers exchanged impassioned words.

"I really want to be in NYC now either to help or to give blood to hospitals there," said a message from a person named Ishtraki, who signed off as "an Egyptian."

Other messages were far more hostile as popular sentiment among Net users grew that suspected Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden was behind the coordinated plane hijackings.

"If Osama bin Laden is responsible for these attacks, rest assured that not only will America be prepared to wipe this despicable excuse for a human being off the face of the earth," wrote a person identified as "Tom, a Canadian."

Several organizations also created message boards to help families find each other during the crisis.

Internet Service provider Prodigy said on Wednesday it created a National "I'm Okay" Message Center to help people find one another at (http://okay.prodigy.net/).

"This message center is designed so people can post a message sharing that they are 'Okay' and where they are. Loved ones can go to the site and search for friends and family they are trying to reach," said a spokesman.

The University of California at Berkeley also created a Web site to help people trying to locate friends and loved ones in New York and Washington, D.C. (http://safe.millennium.berkeley.edu), while AOL also created message boards on its site specifically to speed up communication in those areas.

By Sue Zeidler, Copyright © 2001 iWon, Inc.


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