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On April 17th, a series of tornadoes struck six southern states in the United States. On the streets of Lester, Alabama, a woman collected photographs belonging to the victims and posted them on Facebook, in hopes of finding their owners.
Everything began in the yard of her house. There, 37-year-old Patty Bullion found the first photograph, the same day that the tornado spared her town, but not others nearby. A discovered family snapshot touched her and moved her to try to find more, scattered around on the ground. “A lot of various documents were falling from the sky, brought by the wind, she says. Among them, a large number of personal photographs.”
Listening to her heart, she began to collect dozens of them, and had the ingenious idea of creating a Facebook page where she posted them one by one. She adds simple descriptions and her email address, in case anyone recognizes something and would like to recover them. Patty Bullion is not a compulsive internet browser, but she uses the social network to communicate every night with her brother, an American soldier in Afghanistan. To this moment, and knowing Facebook’s ability to get people together, she just wants to be able to “help out a few people”.
Her online lost and found service has however had an impressive success, only as internet can trigger it. The first picture was claimed just one hour after being posted. Quickly, victims of the natural catastrophe rush in, react actively and browse around for the images stolen by the tornado. Hannah B. lost two people close by, including their house in Smithville, Mississippi when the wind blew them away. She wrote under the found image: “These people are Elvin and Laverne P., both dead. They are a part of my family and I would very much love to recover this photograph to send it to Elvin’s daughter. The house has been completely destroyed and with no personal effects found”.
Social networking can split opinions as well as unite them. The Facebook page created by Patty Bullion has become a place to exchange comments between victims, who not only share images but also their pain, their fears and hopes. It also attracts those who have lost nothing, but want to express their support. Others also offer services of any kind, like retouching on Photoshop the torn pictures. The response has been so positive that three weeks after its creation, more than 100,000 persons have clicked on the “like” button, more than 3,000 photographs have been published and at least 100 of them have found a recipient.
Today, Patty Bullion has become a small local celebrity in her community in Lester. There is not one day where ‘non Facebook residents’ bring her new images, not an hour where she receives a call from a journalist, not a minute where a request email arrives at her desk. “I am very religious, she mentions finally. I think that God is familiar to this story. The best thing to hope is to recover the memory of those who cannot be replaced.”