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Shifting a Web site from food to tragedy

A Calif. chef uses her site to help victims of the deadly flooding in Tabasco, Mexico, where she grew up.

A Fresno, Calif., chef has drawn international attention, but not for her pastries.

The chef's Web log on food has been getting hits from all over the world since it recast its mission and started raising awareness of - and money for - flood victims in Tabasco, Mexico.

Sol Orozco Hernandez, who grew up in Tabasco, pushed photos of chocolate flan cake and fruit tarts to the side of the page. She replaced them with photos of flooded streets, dead cattle and piles of trash from last month's flood in the southern Mexican state.

Since Nov. 1, her "Root Coffee" blog - - has received 20,000 hits from readers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. That's nothing compared with the most popular blogs, which can get well over one million hits a day. But it's a huge number compared with the 80 regular visitors "Root Coffee" normally draws.

Orozco Hernandez, who bakes cakes from her north Fresno home, said she and her husband, Pablo, changed the blog's focus because they felt the U.S. media hasn't given the disaster enough attention.

Retooling a blog's mission isn't common but it happens during a crisis, said Melissa Wall, an associate professor of journalism at the California State University, Northridge.

Wall said the mainstream media would inform the public about a disaster and information on assistance, but it won't go beyond that for fear of being biased.

"A blog does have a mission to rally around an issue. You have a personal relationship with the readers. You get a sense of who they are," she said.

The flooding that began Oct. 31 in the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas affected more than one million residents. It is considered one of the worst natural disasters in Mexico, according to the American Red Cross. About 70 percent of Villahermosa, Tabasco's capital city, was underwater in early November, the Red Cross reported. Homes, crops and livestock were destroyed.

"I'm worried about my family. I don't know how the economy will flow again," said Orozco Hernandez, 28.

"Root Coffee" provided updates on the disaster through news stories, links and through accounts of Orozco Hernandez's relatives. Many of the entries are in English, some are in Spanish.

The blog began attracting more visitors after Orozco Hernandez e-mailed the British Broadcasting Corporation to post comments and accounts of the destruction and mentioned her blog. The entries piqued the interest of the BBC, which e-mailed Orozco Hernandez and asked where her family lives and whether a reporter could contact her relatives.

The Orozcos also started e-mailing a list of 200 people, including family, friends and the blog's 80 regular visitors. They asked their readers to spread the word about the blog. They also created a PayPal account, raising about $700 in donations. They posted links to other donation sites, such as the American Red Cross, the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles and UNICEF.

Orozco Hernandez might resume adding recipes and cooking tips next week.

But she plans to keep the focus on Tabasco.

"It's like a big lesson for me. When New Orleans flooded, I said 'poor people.' But when it's your loved ones, you really feel it," Orozco Hernandez said.