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Hurricanes and tropical storms lead to flood of misinformation
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 28, 2019

As forecasts showed Dorian could strike Florida as a hurricane this weekend, people braced themselves for the hurricane’s impact. That means it's also time to brace ourselves for another round of misinformation.

Amid past storms, we have seen misinformation quickly flood social media, and we’ve heard frequent myths about hurricane preparation

Here are some common myths about hurricanes and some tips to avoid spreading misinformation.

Will feds check immigration status at shelters?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has previously said that rumors that undocumented immigrants can’t go to shelters are false.

FEMA doesn’t operate hurricane shelters -- they are generally run by entities such as the Red Cross or local government agencies. But federal agencies have said that they don’t conduct routine immigration enforcement at shelters.

"At shelters FEMA does not check citizenship status," FEMA spokeswoman Alexandria Bruner told PolitiFact. "If they are in a presidential disaster-declared area, we are committed to getting them some type of assistance."

ICE often suspends operations during civil emergencies, which generally includes hurricanes, ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said.

"In the past we have suspended operations during hurricanes out of humanitarian concern, and also because our own personnel are often affected by the same disasters and are frequently pitching in with other federal, state and local authorities in rescue/recovery and civil peace operations," he said.

Following past storms, some immigrants feared turning to government services and sought help from churches instead.

In 2017 as Hurricane Irma approached Florida, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that undocumented immigrants should not fear deportation.

"We don't ask anybody for their identification," he said. "Everybody who needs shelter in Miami-Dade County is welcome, and you should do so without any fear of any repercussions."

But if law enforcement observes that an undocumented immigrant is a legitimate public safety threat, they will inform ICE, which will then make a determination about any action.

Myths about preparing your home

Several common and dangerous myths persist about how to prepare for a hurricane.

One of the most pervasive myths is that cracking your home's windows a little can prevent them from breaking amid the wind pressure.

Doing so will only create more problems, former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate previously told the Tampa Bay Times.

"It's really great for letting the water in your house, making sure there's plenty of mold," he said. "Basically it's like blowing the roof off the top of your house."

Another rumor is to use duct tape on windows to stop water from entering or to stop windows from breaking. Plywood and shutters are more secure. Just using tape simply creates larger shards of glass when the window busts.

"It is a waste of effort, time, and tape," NOAA said. "It offers little strength to the glass and NO protection against flying debris. After the storm passes you will spend many a hot summer afternoon trying to scrape the old, baked-on tape off your windows (assuming they weren't shattered)."

It’s also a myth that residents should only close some windows and doors and leave others open. All of the doors and windows should be closed. Any open window or door could create a path for flying debris.

Finally, don’t get fixated on the projected category of a storm, said Broward emergency management specialist Miguel Hidalgo. Lower categories can be very dangerous.

"Don’t dismiss it just because it is a lower category," he said. "Even a tropical storm can bring rain, damage or flooding."

People can be electrocuted by downed power lines no matter what category of storm hit the area.

Misinformation on social media

In past hurricanes, we’ve seen people share a host of wrong info: fake weather maps about the path of a storm; prank posts about the projected number of upcoming storms; or misleading images and videos including one about a shark swimming in the streets of Houston.

For accurate information about forecasts, follow reports from the National Hurricane Center. It helps to know basic facts about hurricanes, such as there is no such thing as a Category 6 storm.

Politicians and political figures have spread misinformation about hurricanes, too. In 2017, the White House social media director, Dan Scavino, tweeted and then deleted a picture that falsely identified a flooded airport as Miami International Airport. Minutes later, the airport’s Twitter account responded to Scavino’s tweet, "This video is not from Miami International Airport." 

If you hear any misinformation about Dorian email us as [email protected] or tag us on twitter @PolitiFact.

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Our Sources

National Hurricane Center, Dorian, Accessed Aug. 28, 2019

Federal Emergency Management Agency, Harvey Rumor Control, Sept. 8, 2017

Associated Press, Immigrant hurricane victims turn to churches amid fear, Sept. 20, 2017

Miami Herald, Miami-Dade to unauthorized immigrants: Don't fear hurricane shelters, Sept. 6, 2017

National Weather Service, Irene, 1999

Washington Post, A running list of viral hoaxes about Irma — including one shared by the White House, Sept. 11, 2017

PolitiFact, Can a nuclear bomb stop a hurricane? No, it’s a myth that has persisted for decades, Aug. 26, 2019

PolitiFact, Hurricane Irma: 5 myths about hurricane prep to forget, Sept. 8, 2017

PolitiFact, Donald Trump says people went out on their boats to watch Hurricane Harvey, June 7, 2018

Poynter, 9 tips to avoid spreading misinformation about hurricanes, Sept. 12, 2019

Tampa Bay Times, White House social media director tweets then deletes misinformation as Irma hits Florida, Sept. 10, 2017

Email interview, Shawn Neudauer, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Aug. 28, 2019

Telephone interview, Alexandria Bruner, FEMA spokeswoman, Aug. 28, 2019

Telephone interview, Miguel Hidalgo, Broward emergency management specialist, Aug. 28, 2019

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