NEW ORLEANS – When friends ask Bill Tyler what Hurricane Katrina did to his cottage in Bay St. Louis, he sends them a link to the online video sharing site YouTube.
There, for anyone to see, he's posted a slideshow with images of his flood-stained house, the mangled trees outside and other scenes from the Mississippi Gulf Coast devastated by the Aug. 29 storm. The soundtrack is Angolan musician Waldemar Basto's haunting song "Sofrimento."
Hundreds of Katrina-themed videos are hosted by YouTube and other video sites, ranging from montages of storm-damaged streets days after the hurricane to more recently created works that show that life is still far from normal.
For some, the movie projects are driven by a desire to share stories that aren't covered by traditional media. For Tyler, creating and sharing his video helped him find closure.
"You know how you go to the funeral and they put the body in a box? That is like making the movie," he said. "The fact that I could put that together and revisit it over and over again, I was able to put it behind me quicker."
Sites like YouTube.com, Ourmedia.org and Clipshack.com make it easy for users to watch and share original videos at no charge. Though Katrina-related content is available on other sites, none comes close to the more than 950 movies available on YouTube.
Tyler, a 48-year-old McComb native, lives in Nashville. He'd intended to use the Gulf Coast home as a second residence — a place to do artwork and, in the future, retire with his wife, Cindy. But days before Tyler planned to move items into the home, Hurricane Katrina hit.
About 10 days after the storm, Tyler and his wife were able to survey the damage to the 1,100-square-foot cottage. A self-employed graphic designer, he captured images with a digital camera.
"I knew that I needed to do something to show people," he said.
Days later, Tyler put together the video on his computer, sending snippets of the footage to friends to show the damage to his home and elsewhere on the coast. In May, he discovered YouTube.
"If you look at what individuals are showing and posting on YouTube, it's just astounding. You get a much better sense, I think, of the scale of the disaster and of the personal nature of it. You really get a strong sense of how individuals have been impacted," said Steven Jones, professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Brian Richardson, 33, of Covington, La., took on a film project for a night school college course and turned it into a way to "get the message out" about the destruction caused by Katrina. A south Louisiana native, Richardson felt some news outlets focused too much on the negative effects of the storm.
"It is not a question of motives or bias, it is a question of living through this kind of potential situation every year and having it to this magnitude," Richardson said.
His video instead showcases the images of destruction offset with photos of events significant to Louisiana. The uplifting photos include fans at a New Orleans Saints game and revelers at Mardi Gras, while Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" plays in the background.
Jones said a standard broadcast news story about Hurricane Katrina, with a run-time of several minutes, can't express the same level of personal experience that a person who has been through the disaster.
The Web site also has become a way for people to encourage relief efforts.
Trevor Munson, 19, wanted to help with hurricane relief but felt he was "too far away" in his hometown of Littleton, Colo. So he decided to make a video encouraging people to donate money to the Salvation Army and American Red Cross. Munson used a search engine to find images of the disaster. The closing minutes of the film give information on how to donate to relief efforts.
"I felt this was the best thing I could do using my available resources," Munson said.
YouTube's home page presents a collection of featured videos, including clips that are most-viewed and best-reviewed.
"That's probably the first thing I do when I get on YouTube, is look at featured videos," said Nathan Rucker of Olive Branch, Miss. "If any video like that is featured, it's going to hit almost 20,000 people within a couple of hours. I think it's a great way to get any kind of information out there."
Rucker, 20, a student at the University of Mississippi, routinely posts videos on the site, including one of his church group traveling to the Gulf Coast to help with relief efforts.
Andrew Preston, 18, created a video to show the story of his hometown, hard-hit Long Beach, a city of roughly 18,000 where homes and businesses sustained more than $360 million in damage, according to the mayor's office. About half of every residence and business in town had some type of storm damage.
Preston's home survived, and he said he's suffered "survivor's guilt." But creating the film has helped lessen the feeling. He posted the video on YouTube a few months ago, hoping it will serve as a reminder of Katrina's wrath.
"It's not going to be a matter of a few months of getting everything back together," the recent high school graduate said. "It's going to take many, many years."