A family evacuates their Meyerland home in Houston on Aug. 27. Rescuers answered hundreds of calls as floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey rose high enough to begin filling second-story homes. (Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle/AP)

The desperate messages and horrifying photos washed across social media like so much deadly floodwater this weekend.

There was the mother trapped on her roof with five children who were “running out of time” and the pregnant woman who was in labor and unable to reach police. Miles away, on Houston’s northeast side, a photo emerged showing four children asleep on a counter in a flooded kitchen, including a little girl reportedly on a ventilator.

“Still trying to get a water rescue,” the message said. “Please send some help quick.”

Each heartbreaking story — shared widely on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as floodwaters swelled — offered some variation of the same message as Tropical Storm Harvey unleashed chaos across Houston:

“Here’s my address – Please send help!”

When social media was in its infancy, Americans watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, marooning residents on rooftops, where they helplessly waved white sheets and held up signs for passing helicopters, often to no avail. Twelve years, several smartphone releases and billions of tweets later — as a powerful storm hovered over America’s fourth-largest metropolis — social media allowed many Houstonians to take their fate into their own hands. Using social media, flood victims who still had power were able to communicate with public officials directly or to bypass them entirely and coordinate their own rescues with private citizens.

With floodwaters trapping people in homes and emergency phone lines overwhelmed, many had no other option but to post a plea online and hope

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