A Houston-area woman set off a firestorm in the hours leading up to Hurricane Harvey’s landfall when she wrote on social media that local officials and the mainstream media were misleading the public about the severity of the incoming storm.
Resident Rebecca Reisig said the Houston City Council knew Hurricane Harvey was expected to do far greater damage than was being reported to the public.
Hey guys I’m not trying to start a panic, but as some of you know, I work for a law firm here downtown. One of the lawyers I work with has a friend on the Houston City Council. The news is not telling the whole truth. The storm is expected to be three times worse than what the news is saying because they don’t want a panic on the freeways like Hurricane Rita. The City Council and Harris County Flood Control had an emergency meeting this morning. Everything south of Katy is predicted to be devastated. They’re predicting 50 inches of rain, not 24 like the news is saying and 100,000 homes destroyed. They’re expecting all of Houston to be without power for three days. If you guys live in a flood zone, you need to get out of Houston or try to stay with someone further north of Houston. I hope they’re wrong, but that is the latest I’ve heard from what the news isn’t telling you. Stay safe everyone.
Ms. Reisig’s post went viral and generated so much controversy that high-ranking Houston politicians and regional media outlets were forced to address it, ordering citizens to ignore it as ‘fake news’ and directing them to only pay attention to government warnings and ‘reputable’ media outlets.
“Harris County officials are batting down false information making the rounds from a Sugar Land lawyer, warning people not to fall for online hysteria,” reported the Houston Chronicle on August 25. “The false information, in an email from the address of lawyer Ross Bale, indicated officials believed the approaching Hurricane Harvey could be far more devastating than first estimated.”
“Within minutes of the rumor gaining traction, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett had batted it down and spoken to the email’s author, telling him to leave the emergency warnings to Emmett and other officials.”
“Get your news from legitimate news services, get your news from official sources,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “There are things on the internet and social media that are just false. We’re trying to give you the best information, and we’ll continue to do that.”
An edited version of Reisig’s original post was circulated, and many social media users took to viciously ridiculing Reisig, and her profile is now missing from Facebook.
“False forecasts and irresponsible rumors on social media are interfering with efforts by the city of Houston, and its government and news media partners, to provide accurate information to the public about the expected effects of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Harvey,” said Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, in a statement. “Rumors are nothing new, but the widespread use of social media has needlessly frightened many people today.”
Several false emails & FB posts are being circulated on Hurricane Harvey. Ignore the messages! Monitor the media for official news/warnings pic.twitter.com/qVXk9YITk7
— Harris County OHSEM (@ReadyHarris) August 24, 2017
But now, as Hurricane Harvey has sunk Houston under nearly 50 inches of rainfall, posts mocking Reisig are disappearing, being replaced by users thanking and vindicating her, asking her to re-activate her profile, and excoriating the #FakeNews media and government for participating in the extensive destruction of America’s fourth largest city and mounting death toll.
Whether Rebecca Reisig and her warning are authentic, it is clear that, at very minimum, inaccuracies and ineptitude from the ‘people in charge’ played a role in Texans’ lack of adequate preparation ahead of this catastrophic event.