As word of the massive earthquake in Haiti came in, news organizations scrambled to set up satellite links while humanitarian and government organizations began deploying relief inspectors.
But it was social networking sites that gave millions of people around the world an instant look at the destruction.
The first pictures out of Haiti minutes after the quake were poorly lit, blurry and out of focus. But their message of devastation and heartbreak could not be clearer.
One showed a man, almost out of frame, screaming at nothing and no one in particular. In another, a woman covered in dust reached desperately toward the camera.
Just as the initial images from Haiti did not come from professional photographers, the first impressions from eyewitnesses did not come from professional journalists.
Instead, each came from citizen-reporters or, more accurately, people who watched the world around them literally crumble. They posted what they saw on social networking sites.
It is yet another example of crisis coverage and outreach in the 21st century.
"Thank God for Facebook," said the Port-au-Prince Salvation Army director.
With phone lines down, the only way to communicate with him was through a very shaky Skype connection.
ABC News caught Bob Poff, also of the Salvation Army, in the middle of an aftershock. But the connection stayed intact.
Poff said many people are writing in to say, "We support you, we're praying for you, we love you."
When the phone lines went down in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, people in the midst of chaos turned to Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook to share their photographs or stories.
The collective tweet recalls similar responses during last year's California fires, Hudson River plane landing and Iranian elections fallout.
ABC News found messages from those begging for help.
@purplemajesty86 tweeted, "I'm from HAITI, my auntie got a building collapse on her. And my dad was on a job there, can't find him. And we can't contact anyone."
Others desperately searching for missing loved ones.
richneo wrote, "im so sick right now...My dad and cuz Jeff phone ringing w/no answer..."
Carline Francois tweeted, "If anyone has news on Route de Frere, please post. I can't reach my family."
And still others reacted to the shock by posting their raw emotions.
One person wrote, "Just Woke up to see another day...some people in Haiti weren't fortunate to see another day..."
On Facebook, ABC News friended and then chatted with Toby Munson Banks, a ministry worker sheltering 20 abandoned orphans.
"At this point," she said, "we have no cell service in Haiti FB was our only way to communicate today with our team."
A message posted on her Facebook wall from doctors in Switzerland informed her that help is on the way.
It's "amazing to see how everyone is coming together to help so quickly," she said.
Haitian radio host Carel Pedre was one of the first to snap photos of the quake's aftermath and post them to his Facebook page.
"It's sad, bad," Pedre said. "We're devastated."
Haiti native and music superstar Wyclef Jean tweeted, before he boarded a plane to Haiti, about a rapper friend that is missing and, he fears, dead.
Aggregators such as TweetDeck collect and organize tweets, making them easier to search for the latest news or pictures. One, TwitterMap.tv, shows where people are tweeting geographically so users can watch others' tweets pop up from every corner of the globe.
One girl near Jakarta, Indonesia, echoed the simple message of thousands of others: "My heart goes out to all the victims."
A Facebook group dedicated to the victims of the earthquake already has more than 29,000 members and is quickly growing.
"Haiti is on my mind," user Joy Montgomery wrote. "[I] can't stop thinking about all those people trapped in rubble. I just kissed my kids, and I am feeling so grateful for my comfortable life."
While social networking is by nature a grassroots method of communication, official sources have also taken advantage.
The White House Twitter feed urged its followers to donate to the Red Cross for relief through text message, and the Department of State used its blog, DipNote, to encourage donations as well.
As relief agencies around the world scramble to help those in need, most people are left sending their best wishes in whatever form they can.
"We pray none affected shall faint, but be strong and courageous," one user said recently. "We're with you."