The Facebook group, Florence Evacuation Support in East TN/W NC/SW VA, was born last year during Hurricane Irma as a way to facilitate contact between evacuees and people throughout the region and beyond offering information on accommodations for those fleeing the storm, according to local resident Kiran Singh Sirah.
“Before Irma was about to approach, we set up a Facebook group called Irma Evacuation Support in East Tennessee,” he said. “When we woke up, there were 300 users on the page. By the weekend, there were over 1,000 people on the page.
“Because of the power of social media, it went much further than we expected.”
Sirah said the group was started when he and local business owner Ren Allen discussed the idea over a cup of coffee after they heard the news of Irma last year. It was then that the two members of Be a Good Human Tri-Cities, a local social club, decided to create a social media medium to help evacuees find accommodations.
With hundreds of members from last year already in place to help evacuees, the page’s name was changed over the weekend, Allen said.
“We started it last year to support Irma evacuees. It turned out to be such amazing support, so we repurposed it into help for Florence evacuees,” Allen said Tuesday, adding that the Facebook group was able to help “dozens and dozens” find accommodations last year.
“Kiran and I started it, many jumped in and helped out.”
As of Tuesday, Sirah said the social media group had about 1,000 members contacting each other about places evacuees would be allowed to stay.
“People are updating it right now,” he said Tuesday morning. “They’re posting what availability they have — if they have rooms, pet accommodations and contact information. As we speak, people are finding accommodations.
“The structure is still there ready to go. It’s already been done once,” he continued. “When Ren reactivated it on Sunday, people knew the drill and knew how to get the job done.”
For local residents willing to get involved with the group’s efforts to help evacuees, page administrators are asking residents to post their names, contact information, and specific information about accommodations offered.
“This is to help lessen the burden of a massive influx. The idea was that if someone has an extra room or space and wants to share it, just post it and get in contact,” Sirah said. “If there are a million people being asked to flee, it requires a collective effort.
“When push comes to shove, we’ll help our neighbors and say, ‘Come to our mountains.’”
For more information on how to get involved, visit the group’s Facebook page.
In addition to these local grassroots efforts and Red Cross efforts to help those fleeing the storm, Bristol Motor Speedway will once again open its campgrounds to hurricane evacuees, the speedway announced Tuesday morning.