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Asia

Nepal: Searching for missing loved ones with Google

People all over the world are turning to social media to check on their loved ones after the earthquake in Nepal. Google and Facebook have activated their own tools to help search for missing people.

The death toll keeps rising after the massive earthquake that shook Nepal on Saturday. More than 3,600 people are reported dead in Nepal so far. But there are regions that are still completely cut off, so that number is expected to rise.

Aid organizations are only beginning to reach the country and finding out anything about family members or friends in the area is proving very difficult.

Social media organizations are trying to make things easier. Internet giants Google and Facebook have joined in the effort to help people locate missing loved ones. Online call services like Viber have waived their fees.

'My parents are safe'

Since Saturday, many Facebook timelines have been filling up with pictures of missing people, requests for aid from the disaster area and lists of helpful phone numbers to call.

Prabhakar, who now lives in Toronto, has changed his Facebook profile picture to the slogan "Pray for Nepal." He used the social network to let his friends now that his family was all right on Sunday: "To everyone asking: In Nepal, my parents are safe. And just like all the other safe people, they are living in constant fear."

Ravi, a young Nepalese who now lives in Washigton, has shared a document with contacts of "places to get food, water, shelter in Kathmandu area." It includes information on how to reach a charity that distributes free noodles and other organizations handing out bottles of water.

Others took to Twitter to share emergency phone numbers or contact details of people in Nepal.

People are using social media to help each other and look for support since traditional channels of communication have mostly broken down in Nepal. International aid groups might have a hard time reaching the country, but nothing can stop the outpouring of sympathy and the organizational effort that Twitter and Facebook have seen in the last 48 hours.

"As I get updates from friends waiting outside their homes for the tremors to stop, I'm heartened by the initial response. Let's all do our part in helping Nepal rebuild," Ankita, a young Indian journalist, posted on Facebook on Monday.

Big corporations pitching in

Social media giants have taken the hint and are following their users' lead. Facebook has activated its "safety check" feature that contacts users in disaster areas. With one mouse click, the user can then mark whether they're safe, or not in the affected area at all. They can also mark others as safe or check on friends in the area.

Google has activated its

"person finder."

It first introduced the tool after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and has since made it available when disasters occur, such as the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011.

Google says its crisis response team "analyzes the scale of impact of the disaster" and then decides whether it merits the use of the "person finder."

Users can use the application either to search for someone or to supply information about them. People can post photos of missing relatives and friends along with information on where they were last seen.

The entry is updated when someone else enters more details, so the status can change from "Someone is seeking information about this person" to "Someone has received information this person is alive."

Google itself also searches various directories, so that users looking for a missing loved one don't have to go through various databases, but can simply look in one place.

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