JACKSONVILLE — Jordan Murray felt helpless as she watched Hurricane Florence destroy her hometown of Jacksonville from her current home in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Even more concerning for Murray was the fact that her parents, Ned and Patty Mercer, couldn’t evacuate due to medical issues and were left in their generator-powered home with no access to dialysis, medications or caregivers.
Murray posted about her parents’ dire situation on the social media platform and her post was seen by Jacksonville travel agent Jennifer Kellum. Through a thread on the post, Kellum was able to secure Ned’s emergency dialysis medication, deliver it to their home and check on Murray’s parents for her.
“I don’t even know Jennifer Kellum, she’s mutual friends with a lot of my friends (on Facebook),” Murray said. “But she’s just such a blessing, she’s an angel and helped out in a time that was such a struggle for me. I didn’t know what to do three-and-a-half hours away. I really don’t know what I would have done without her help.”
All across Onslow County, people are using social media to check in on loved ones, find out the status of their homes and come together to help other people in need after Hurricane Florence ravaged the community over the weekend. Online yard sale groups have become forums for those who evacuated to connect with those who stayed behind. Some people are using social media to distribute information about where to find fuel, food and supplies.
Others are using Facebook to literally save lives.
The Cajun Navy, a group of people from Louisiana who regularly head into storm-ravaged communities with their boats to assist first responders with rescue efforts, uses Facebook to assess where people are who need to be rescued from their flooded homes.
Rob Gaudet, the founder of Cajun Navy Foundation, manages several social media groups dedicated to helping people connect with Cajun Navy rescuers in times of disaster. Using Facebook, he coordinated rescue efforts during the 2016 Louisiana flooding, 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida and now is working to connect people during Florence.
“People are used to using Facebook, they use it every day, so it’s a comfortable way for people to reach out for help,” Gaudet said. “Social media is really critical in times like this. The fact is that it has changed everything in how disasters are addressed.”
Gaudet said that during Florence, he has spent hours combing Facebook to find people who are in need of rescue, and relays information to the boots on the ground, a team of approximately 150 Cajun Navy volunteers currently spread out across Eastern North Carolina.
He estimates that so far, the team has rescued more than 1,500 people — all thanks to social media.
“People don’t just show up with their boats, they’re not randomly going into water and pulling people out,” he said. “There’s a whole team of people supporting (the Cajun Navy volunteers). Using Facebook, we dispatch them just like a fire department or a police department dispatches people.”
Jennifer Kellum, the woman who helped Jordan Murray get her parents’ medical needs taken care of, said taking to Facebook was a natural response for her to find out where the needs were in her community after Florence.
“We just made a Facebook post and said, ‘if anybody has elderly family in the city limits that we can check on safely, then we will,’ and so that’s what we did,” she said.
Along with her husband Jason and their heavy duty truck, Kellum has been able to help around 15 elderly people over the past several days.
For Murray, having support form people like Kellum was “amazing,” though “not surprising.”
“I’ve always said that Jacksonville is the most close-knit community,” she said. “I was born and raised there, it’s just like the hometown that always pulls together…I’m so appreciative of my hometown. It’s just a special place.”