When the fire struck Fort McMurray on Tuesday, May 3, it was as if hell was at the doorstep of the city. Reports were coming in of 60,000 people being forced to evacuate, and then 80,000, finally ending closer to 90,000. Entire communities forced to leave their homes and businesses. Many evacuees leaving with just the clothes on their back, and countless others separated from their loved ones.
For many Albertans, and Canadians as a whole, the ferocity of the devastation and the images being shared, both through news outlets and individuals on social media, incited people to action. Far be it for Canadians to sit idly by as their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and fellow Canadians raced to safety. This is where the story of the human spirit, community and unflinching tenacity begins.
Social media erupted in a chorus of support. #ymmhelps was trending on Twitter and an open source help page was born, @ymmhelp. In the days following there were nearly 100,000 tweets using the hashtag #ymmhelps or #ymmfire. Just over the last 8 days, the hashtag #ymmhelps resulted in more than 14 million impressions. Facebook initiated Safety Check on the day of the evacuation to help evacuees communicate that they were safe and sound. Facebook groups were popping up like dandelions. The group, Fort McMurray Evac Relocation Help Group, had just a couple thousand members when Octopus Creative originally posted the link on our Facebook timeline. Today, there are more than 103,000 members.
People were using social media to help coordinate refuelling efforts and vehicle rescues as people headed up 63 & 881. They were helping evacuees locate loved ones and pets that were separated during the crisis. Businesses large and small were using social media to coordinate fundraisers. Companies donating lodging, food, clothing, and supplies, and more, absolutely free or at huge discounts. Still today, individuals and companies are using social media to facilitate ongoing communication to support evacuees in ways too many to list.
Of course, this disaster is nowhere near ending. Even as we write this blog post we are hearing about more evacuations happening in the work camps where residents took shelter in their time of need. To see how our province, in fact, how our country has come together, it gives us faith that the community of Ft. McMurray will come back even stronger than before. Our province will be stronger; I would even go so far as to say that our country will be stronger and more united.
As of May 14, the donation tally for the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Appeal was at $86 million, not including the federal or provincial government matching commitments. If you would like to make a donation visit the Red Cross Alberta Fires page or text REDCROSS to 30333 to make an immediate $5 donation.
The best way to end off this post is to say, thank you. Thank you to all the first responders, firefighters, volunteers, donors, the industry partners who responded so quickly, the small and medium-sized businesses, and all the residents who opened their homes and wallets. To all the evacuees who are still living in a state of limbo – and I’m sure I speak for all Albertans – our hearts and thoughts are with you. We are here for you 100%.