Journalist Heather Lende has been writing obituaries in the small town of Haines, Alaska, for 20 years.
Becky Siegal-Harty lives in Seneca, Illinois, some 60 miles from the epicenter of the tornado that devastated Washington, Illinois.
A few hours after the tornado, her husband found a receipt from a Walgreens in Washington in the driveway. That sparked a search by her two sons for items lost in the storm that landed in their neighborhood.
Siegal-Harty then started a Facebook page connecting people from all over Illinois who found photos and other items, to the owners who lost them.
Within hours, hundreds of people began to post photos. The page now has almost 1,000 members and has helped to recover hundreds of photos lost in the storm.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Well, some people who lost everything over the weekend are getting some help on Facebook. Pages have been set up helping to connect lost photos and mementos that blew miles and miles and miles away with their owners. Becky Siegel-Harty started one of the pages and she is with us now. Hi, Becky.
BECKY SIEGEL-HARTY: Hi. Thank you for having me.
HOBSON: So tell us, first of all, about the reaction that you've had to your Facebook page that you set up.
SIEGEL-HARTY: It's been phenomenal. Just on a, kind of, leap of faith started the page. Within hours after the tornadoes hit, my kids had found pictures in our area. I knew they must've belonged to somebody. And within hours, we had that picture connected back to someone. And we're up to 900 or so members right now. And it's just been amazing. The stories that are - keep rolling in about the success of matching up pictures and items with people that have lost everything.
HOBSON: Your kids had actually found pictures that had blown from where the tornado hit to where you were?
SIEGEL-HARTY: Yeah. That was - yeah. That was actually the first picture we found that kind of sparked this - for me to do that. I thought this picture must be important. It looked like it was out of a scrapbook. And sure enough, the girl that I - that got in touch through the page, her and her mother does scrapbooking as a hobby together for years, and they lost everything. And this may be the only picture they have left.
SIEGEL-HARTY: So they're very excited to have it back. And I lost a child two years ago, my 16-year-old son, and I know how precious photos are. So, I mean, you know, when you have your hands on someone else's, maybe their only memory left, it really means a lot to make an attempt to get back to them.
HOBSON: Now, if I were to find a photo on the ground, even after a storm, I don't think I would assume that it had come all the way from tens of miles away from where the storm hit.
SIEGEL-HARTY: So, I had seen on Facebook that people started posting, hey, I'm in Minooka, Illinois, and I just found checks. Or, I'm in Channahon, Illinois, and I just found this or that from Washington, Illinois. So, actually, my husband was trying to be a smart guy, and he said let me go outside and see if we got anything. And we had a Walgreen's receipt in our driveway from Washington, Illinois. So, the kids were, like, we're on a scavenger hunt. Let's go. And they took off, and started gathering stuff.
HOBSON: And this is not the first time that you've done something like this. I hear that you were involved in something very similar after Hurricane Sandy.
SIEGEL-HARTY: Well, with social media, it's amazing what can happen. About a year ago, God put Staten Island on my heart. I've never been there. I never wanted to be there. I never went to New York. And I blindly put a post on Facebook, saying: Hey, if I got some donations together and a truck, could, you know, could we get these items out to Staten Island? And it blew up on Facebook. I had donations, tens of thousands of donations within 150-mile radius and 28-foot trucks taking it out to Staten Island.
Four of us hand delivered and stayed at First Bible Church there in Staten Island. We blindly hooked up with them, and it was just amazing. So the power of social media, I know some people kind of knock it once in a while for being, you know, gossip central and things like that. But in times like this, it truly is amazing. There's no other media that can touch as many people that fast.
HOBSON: Well, Becky, before we let you go, just give us another example from the Facebook page that you just set up for the tornado in Illinois of something that was found.
SIEGEL-HARTY: I am receiving messages - private messages - left and right as of right now, even. I can't even check them as fast as they're coming in, people thanking me that they've actually been contacted from Washington and Pekin and Roanoke, and that they have gotten in contact with people in the suburbs or in my area, that they are going to be making connections to get their pictures back.
Barbara Strange is on the Facebook. She was one of our first connections that was made. She found a picture on her farm. And she was north of Morris, Illinois, and was in contact with cousins. And they met up, I believe, yesterday or today, and it's a picture of a 40th wedding anniversary of a couple who lost everything.
HOBSON: Wow. Becky, thanks so much for joining us.
SIEGEL-HARTY: Thank you so much. And God bless everyone that's helping.
HOBSON: That's Becky-Siegel Harty. She lives in Seneca, Illinois, started a Facebook page to help storm victims find photos and other lost items from the Illinois tornadoes. You can go to hereandnow.org. We will link you with Becky's Facebook page. And, of course, if you have found anything and you are a listener who is in Illinois, you found anything from the tornado, please let us know at hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Peter O’Dowd follows the route of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train 150 years ago, to look at modern-day race relations and Lincoln's legacy.