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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Internet offers lifeline
Disaster Message Service WWW
This website carries missing persons reports
People struggling to get through to family members and friends after the attacks in the US turned to internet services as phones became jammed.

Ironically the internet was up and running, so I used a web site to call home

New York
E-mail, instant messaging, internet relay chat, personal web pages and internet phones were all used to pass messages to worried friends and relatives.

"Cell phones did not work for like one or more hours... We could not contact our family... Ironically the internet was up and running, so I used a web site to call home," Abhinav of New York wrote to BBC News Online.

While news sites at times struggled with sharply increased demand, general internet traffic in the early stages was actually reported to be slightly down by some monitoring companies - probably because people were watching the astonishing live images broadcast on TV.

Weather report

The Internet Weather Report, a service by Matrix.Net showing internet response times, indicated good performance from servers located on the eastern coast of the US around an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Internet Weather Report WWW
The Internet Weather Report an hour after the first attack - performance was good
Internet users quickly put up lists of names of people either known to be safe or as yet unaccounted for.

Science Fiction writer Bill Shunn put up one such page on his web site but had to close it down.

"Due to extreme server overload, we had to shut down access to the Check-In Registry," he wrote, pointing users to a list of similar sites.

Digital photos

People with digital cameras e-mailed pictures to media organisations.

World Trade Center BBC
This picture was sent to BBC News Online
BBC News Online received many images from its readers in New York.

And thousands of users logged on to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) servers to pass on messages and discuss the attacks.

IRC is a widely available text-based chat service that does not involve the same volumes of data transfer as web services.

Cell phone congestion

Some US telecoms providers called for customers to use SMS messaging on their mobile phones as long queues formed by payphones in New York.

"Cingular Wireless... asks that customers please limit use of wireless phones to help keep lines clear and open for emergency calls," one large provider said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency.

Phone companies in Europe reported a sharp increase in phone traffic to the US.

British Telecom in the UK said that it saw a tenfold increase in transatlantic phone calls but reported no problems.

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See also:

12 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Net surge for news sites
12 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
UK surfers swamp news sites
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