The idea that social media may replace traditional news sources in the age of Web 2.0 has never been more real. When software professional Kiran Jonnalagadda, trapped in the smoke-filled fifth floor of the Carlton Towers in Bangalore, wrote on the micro-blogging site Twitter about his experience, he instantly became the primary source of information for many.
This included traditional news sources such as newspapers and television channels who were still on their way to the spot. Tweeple – twitter parlance for micro-bloggers – re-tweeted his messages about the fire, links to photographs that he was updating real-time using GPRS and witty appeals to friends to stop calling him in panic.
Mr. Jonnalagadda, who works at a start-up, Development Enable, told The Hindu that he walked out safe at around 5.30 p.m. after spending nearly an hour waiting for help. Photos he took with his mobile phone were re-tweeted extensively and even published by news sites. His twitter handle is @jackerhack.
Confirming his tweets, he said that he saw at least seven people jump out of the sixth and seventh floors in panic. Four of them simply landed on the concrete, but it was too smoky to make out. “Carlton Towers is burning and six of us are trapped inside. The fire’s above but there’s smoke everywhere. Saw people jump to their death,” he tweeted. His friends and random twitter followers wrote back conveying their best wishes.
"More stressful than the fire itself"
His regular updates on the situation included facts about how the ladder could not reach his floor, and how the entire region was swarmed with people who had gathered around the premises. Minutes after he had walked out of the site, he said over the phone: “We heard a fire alarm at around 4.30 p.m. and assumed it is one of those annoying drills. A minute later we heard there was smoke. We didn’t know where the fire was. It seemed to be coming from above us. So we pulled out the plug points and tried to run out through our door. But we couldn’t because of the thick smoke coming from our floor. We had to wait for a long time before the fire brigade came up. By then, the smoke seemed to have cleared and we rushed down the stairs.”
Of course, with little access to the survivors, he had to spend the rest of the evening taking calls from mediapersons and narrating the experience. Exhausted, he tweeted later on Tuesday night: “All this media attention is being a lot more stressful than the fire itself!”
Twitter was inundated with tweets from Bangaloreans who tweeted about the tragedy, the news reports that they were watching on television and even about traffic restrictions in and around the area.