Technology

Facebook helps good Samaritan rescue pregnant woman in freezing Atlanta storm

Jan. 29, 2014 at 5:21 PM ET

In this aerial view looking at I-75 north at Moors Mill Rd., motorists get out of their vehicles to chat near abandoned cars along the ice-covered int...
David Tulis / AP
In this aerial view looking at I-75 north at Moors Mill Rd., motorists get out of their vehicles to chat near abandoned cars along the ice-covered interstate after a winter snow storm , Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Atlanta. Georgia Gov.

In snowy Atlanta, stranded drivers are sending a social media SOS.

One of those messages was received by Craig Catalfu, a 25-year-old who was looking to help some of the thousands of drivers stranded on the icy streets of the city after a winter storm passed through.

Late Tuesday night, he posted a message on SnowedOutAtlanta, a Facebook group that has attracted more than 46,000 members in less than one day, where people ask and offer everything from rides to food to moral support. Little did he know that he would end up guiding a woman who was eight-months pregnant through the dark and back to her husband only hours before sunrise. 

It started out with a simple, helpful post: 

Facebook message
Facebook

It received more than 60 comments, including the following:

Facebook comment
Facebook

Around 2 a.m., he drove his all-wheel drive Ford Edge to where the I-285 meets the I-75 and discovered a scene that he described to NBC News as a "parking lot." Cars were left abandoned on the interstate, some parked sideways or up against each other.

"I'm from Pennsylvania, and I have seen weather like this, but I have never seen so much utter chaos," Catalfu, who moved to Atlanta two years ago, told NBC News.

Using a phone number sent to him from a person on Facebook, he found the car of Katie Norman Horne, who had been stuck in on the interstate for 12 hours with her 3-year-old son, Benton, with no water and only a box of Tic Tacs to eat. 

"It was unreal," Catalfu said. "I felt kind of bad at the time that i didn't have any food to offer them, but I was mainly worried about getting her home."

Horne, a Georgia native, was afraid to drive while pregnant in unfamiliar conditions. She agreed to follow Catalfu in her Ford Explorer, driving around 10 m.p.h. on side roads back to her home in Marietta, Ga., where she was greeted by her husband, Kevin.

The timing was perfect: Horne experienced Braxton Hicks contractions as soon as she walked through her front door at 5:01 a.m., a sign that she had been dehydrated. Horne's son, however, didn't seem too bothered by the experience. He had slept on the way home. 

"He thought it was time to get up," Horne told NBC News on Wednesday. "He was ready to eat breakfast and watch some cartoons."

Craig Catalfu.
Craig Catalfu
Craig Catalfu, 25, of Atlanta, Ga.

The 33-year-old human resources consultant said that if SnowedOutAtlanta didn't exist, there was a good chance she would still be stuck on the interstate with her son. 

"Quite honestly, I 'm pleasantly shocked by the kindness and goodness of strangers," she said. "I had never met Craig or any of these people who kept posting messages saying they were praying for me."

The woman who started the Facebook group is Michelle Sollicito, who had moved to the Atlanta area from London 11 years ago. She had come home early from work and noticed something when she logged onto Facebook.

"I had some friends who were asking for help, and some friends who were offering help, but none of them had been matched up," Sollicito told NBC News. "I created the group and it just snowballed, forgive the pun."

By 11 p.m. on Tuesday, she said, at least 400 people had been helped out by the group. That includes a stranded man — worried about his wife who had been in a car accident and his two children who were stuck at school — who had walked a mile from his car to stay at Sollicito's house for the night after seeing her post on Facebook. SnowedOutAtlanta grew so big that it split into several regional groups.

One of them was Snowed Out Atlanta Eastside, run by Chris Calhoun, who wanted to make it easier for people who lived closer to him in Monroe, Ga., to find help. Calhoun, owner of Avalon Limousine Service, had access to one very valuable commodity: gasoline, stored in his company's fuel station. He said he delivered around 15 to 20 gallons of gas to stranded drivers who had contacted with him through Facebook.

Despite driving 279 miles around the Atlanta area, he said, it was the actions of people he saw out on the road that really inspired him. 

"I saw people walking down the highway, freezing, their feet covered in the snow, passing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," Calhoun said. "I tell you what, that probably impressed me more than anything in the world. That meant more than anything that I did." 

Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com

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