Ian was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm on Thursday, Sept. 29, one day after making landfall on Florida’s southwest coast. The storm dropped heavy rains and created storm surges that caused flooding and led to inland rescues and evacuations.
Many social media posts claim to show shocking images from the storm. The VERIFY team has been fact-checking viral content to determine what’s real and what isn’t.
Was an elephant seal seen scooting along a Florida sidewalk during Hurricane Ian?
The video, posted to Twitter on Sept. 28, had more than 12 million views.
No, an elephant seal was not seen scooting along a Florida sidewalk during Hurricane Ian. The elephant seal video was taken in October 2020 in Puerto Cisnes, Chile.
According to Infobae, an Argentinian news outlet, the elephant seal traveled 10 blocks in an area known as the largest urban center in the city of Puerto Cisnes, Chile. With the help of residents in the area, the seal was transported back to the ocean by the Chilean navy.
The rescue mission was recorded live on Facebook in October 2020 by a local radio DJ.
Was a video showing people on a balcony with drinks as lightning strikes taken during Hurricane Ian?
No, the video wasn’t taken during Ian. It was shared online multiple times before the storm made landfall in Florida, though it was taken in Fort Myers, Florida.
Using RevEye, a reverse image search tool, VERIFY found several instances where the video was shared prior to Ian becoming a named storm.
The video was posted on Reddit on Aug. 30. This 12-second video was posted to Facebook on Sept. 12. It was also posted on Imgur, an image and video sharing platform, on Sept. 15, about a week and a half before Ian made landfall.
Using Google Maps Streetview, VERIFY was able to pinpoint the exact location where the video was taken – from the rooftop of the Lani Kai Island Resort in Fort Myers Beach. The same buildings seen in the video can be seen from Google Maps.
The same 7-11 convenience store can be seen across the street from the Lani Kai resort where the video was taken, and right across the street from that, the same blue building.
Does this photo show a shark swimming on a Florida highway in Ian’s floodwaters?
The photo, posted to Twitter on Sept. 28, had more than 28,000 retweets and over 300,000 likes.
This photo circulates nearly each hurricane season. This example was shared in 2018 in connection to Hurricane Florence, which wreaked havoc on the Carolinas. Here it was shared during Hurricane Sandy, and here during Hurricane Irma.
The image was actually lifted from a September 2005 issue of Africa Geographic. The original photo shows a shark trailing a kayaker, and was later manipulated to look like a shark was swimming through an interstate lane.
Were zoo flamingos really moved to a basement bathroom ahead of the storm?
Some people commenting on the photo claimed they had seen that image before the storm struck Florida on Sept. 28.
This one is real!
The flamingos are residents of Sunken Gardens park, a botanic park based out of St. Petersburg, Florida. The park tweeted the photo from their official account on Sept. 28, saying the flamingos were safe from the oncoming storm.
“We're hunkered down! Our animals are safe w/staff on site to see them through the storm. The flamingos are having a hurricane party in the bathroom; eating, drinking, & dancing. Stay safe out there!” the tweet said.
People on social media might have been confused because this isn’t the first time zookeepers have posted pictures of flamingos in facilities ahead of a storm.
In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, hit Florida and at the time, Miami Zoo’s Ron Magill took a photo of flamingos huddled up.
On the 30 year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, Magill tweeted about the famous photo, writing, “Of the countless images I have captured in my life, none is more iconic than this one. I can't believe it has been 30 years since Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida. I'll never forget capturing this image of the zoos flamingos huddled in the ladies restroom for protection.”
Was someone seen pulling a pineapple-shaped trailer down a highway during Hurricane Ian evacuations?
A tweet with the photo, posted on Sept. 25, had more than 2,500 retweets and over 17,000 likes.
No. This is another popular meme that often appears on the internet during storm season.
Using RevEye, VERIFY was able to trace the photo to at least September 2017, when it appeared on Imgur, a popular photo sharing website.
The photo appeared on Reddit in August 2019 when Hurricane Dorian was nearing Florida.
So, we can VERIFY this photo was also not taken when people were evacuating ahead of Hurricane Ian, but actually is a popular meme that predates the storm.
If you have questions or want something confirmed, the VERIFY team is here for you. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want the team to fact-check any claims you see online or hear in person.