People are turning to social media to help find family members and loved ones displaced by Hurricane Harvey, with thousands posting photos and pleas for help.
Pictures and pleas for dozens of toddlers, brothers and grandfathers are circulating on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
No official number of the unaccounted-for has been released as the storm continues to pound Texas and Louisiana for a fifth straight day. Authorities say the 18 deaths confirmed so far could surge in the days to come.
The posts appeared to be getting results, though not always good news.
“Pleaseeeee,” read an Instagram posting seeking 8-month-old Paige Booth, showing the baby sitting on a couch with a pacifier.
Her mother and grandmother were evacuating from their Houston home Monday and holding her above their heads as the water rose to their chests and a current pushed them along.
“It was raining bad, and the water was high,” the mother, Bajauh Henix, said.
They handed the baby off to a police officer on a personal watercraft, who took the infant to higher ground and handed her to a family in a black pick-up truck, said Kennesha Grand, the girl’s grandmother. But when Grand and Henix reached the area where the child was supposed to be, no one there knew her whereabouts.
Once they reached a shelter, they posted photos of the baby on Instagram and elsewhere. “Everyone started posting, and it started spreading,” Grand said.
After nearly four hours, the mother got a phone call from a family. They had Paige, who was returned by a police officer, completely unfazed by the ordeal.
“She was sweet. She was dry. She was fed,” Grand said. “She didn’t miss us.”
Another search that took hold on social media lasted far longer and lacked the happy ending.
Ruben Jordan, 58, a former football and track coach from a Houston-area high school, had been sought since he disappeared on Saturday night.
“Please help,” the digital flier linked on Facebook and Twitter posts said. “His family is desperately awaiting any information. He was helping rescue people from high water when last seen.”
People who spread the post praised the coach.
“Coach Jordan had a tremendous positive impact on my twin sons,” Lee Jackson, an Austin writer, said when sharing the post, “he still keeps up with them. They love him.”
But after 48 hours of searching, his two adult children and the rest of his family learned from the Friendswood police department Monday that he had died, said Sandra Jordan Washington, his former wife.
Another missing man, 25-year-old Omar Rosales, worked part time at Walmart. With his meager wages, he had decided to forgo a cellphone so he could pay for car insurance.
That made him unreachable for 17 hours after Harvey began, his mother, Lydia Rosales, said. His sister posted on Instagram on Sunday, hoping to find him.
Omar Rosales found that rising waters kept him from getting home when he got off work Saturday night. He finally parked in a lot, but the water forced him to drive farther and at last his car stalled for good as he coasted into a gas station.
There, a man let him use his cellphone and he called his mother, who was just six blocks away at a friend’s house where she had taken shelter after leaving her own home.
“It’s just a miracle,” Rosales said Tuesday night, adding that she’d make sure her son had a phone from now on. “I think we both learned our lesson.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency pointed anyone looking for a missing person to the American Red Cross’ “Safe and Well site, which lets people leave their name and a brief message to let others know that they are safe.
Harvey, now categorized as a tropical storm, has caused widespread damage across southeastern Texas, with floodwaters expected to continue rising for several more days. Officials say they expect 450,000 people to register as disaster victims with federal government.