“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV
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By now, I would assume that most people have heard about the wildfire that has ravaged the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, forcing more than 80,000 residents to evacuate on May 3rd, 2016. Although we have all heard of other evacuations resulting from natural disasters, the images from Fort McMurray look like they were taken from a horror movie, including ones where flames and embers surround vehicles that were gridlocked trying to flee the fire. Other images taken after the fire had destroyed parts of the city are being compared to post-apocolyptic, unlike anything you would expect to see in our age of technology and advancement. Unfortunately, at this point in the growing fire, nothing can fight mother nature but mother nature herself in the form of rain.
The city of Fort McMurray is in the northeast part of the province, and I live in the more south central part. The province is quite large but in the face of this tragedy has seemed quite small and united. Many local businesses are offering free meals, services, etc. to evacuees. Extensive fundraising efforts exist including a local radio station where Friday every song they played was via a donation for “Support the Fort” – $35000 has already been raised. These are just some of the many examples of the generosity of others, both throughout the province and the nation, where Canadians are once again helping fellow Canadians in need – despite and regardless of the recent downturn in our economy.
I believe, and I am not alone, that social media has been the largest driving force behind the feelings of unity and solidarity throughout the province and our country during this tragedy. Both Twitter and Facebook messages have added humanity to the emerging images and stories. It has not only allowed people to see status updates and gather information as to how to help but it has also allowed evacuees and family members to stay connected and find out where and how to get the help they may need.
Various hashtags have trended on Twitter including #ymmfire, #FortMac, #FortMacFire, #FortMcMurray, and #FortMacStrong. Of course, some haters will always throw out senseless mean-spirited comments, but the flood of support and positive messages far outweighs the negative. It really brings together that sense of community building that I love about social media – we are all in this together. This sense of a shared experience can really give hope to those that need it most.
When tragedy strikes and we embrace the power of social media, we strengthen the bonds of humanity that can become charred over time. As Mark Zuckerberg said, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people – and that social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”
Some examples of tweets early in the evacuation
Some examples of tweets days later following the evacuation
My thoughts and prayers are with the residents of Fort McMurray and their families. I can only hope that we all continue to share, unite and support one another not only through this tragedy but also through the bumpy journey called life.