Sorting the Real Sandy Photos From the Fakes



Here's an meme that's been resurrected. This seal survived the Duluth Zoo flood earlier this year. He's now being trotted out as a "wide-eyed seal" that appeared in Manhattan. Do not be fooled. This is not from Sandy.


This 86th Street Station photo seems dubious. Brendan Cain laid out the case against the photo. "Track trough shouldn't be that opaque. It's not *that* deep," he wrote to me. He also noted that Broadway and 86th is 77 feet above sea level, much higher than downtown areas. 

But, the origin of the photo is an Instagram user named ninjapito, who hashtagged his posts, #brooklyn. If it does turn out to be real, it is most likely a picture of the 86th Street Station out in Brooklyn. I'm keeping this one at unverified, but it is definitely *not* a photograph of the 86th Street station in Manhattan. Stay tuned for updates.

Ok, update 1:32am: Mashable Stephanie Haberman notes that the geotag on the Instagram photo is 9.5 miles away from the 86th Street station at which it was supposedly taken. Suspicious. Consider that circle down there to be closer to orange than yellow. 

Dang, update 1:33am: Countervailing evidence! Brooklynite @RoseTintedVisor reports that the N line is, in fact, inundated with water, including the station near his house further down the line. "It looks like a fucking river," he told me. He also pointed me to another photo showing the N as waterway

Update, 1:51am: @RoseTintedVisor delivered pics of his own from further down the N line. It looks bad.


Buzzfeed posted a shocking image of FDR Drive underwater without clear provenance although in the square style of Instagram. Our social media editor, Chris Heller, followed up on that video with a YouTube clip that clearly shows the road near the E 34th St exit under water. (That user, Ethan Ruttenberg has posted a series of videos of FDR under water to his YouTube account.) It's not a perfect verification, but even if someone took the time to create an elaborate fake, the reality outside is equally as bad. 


I'm sad to report that this is as real as it gets. The photo below is an official Associated Press photograph by John Minchillo.


Risk management experts have warned that New York's subway infrastructure could flood. Still, this photo was one of the most suspect I've seen so far. Sadly, it turns out to be real. It shows water rushing into the Hoboken PATH station through an elevator shaft. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey just tweeted it from an official account. This actually happened.


Here we see massive flooding in Stuy Town at 20th and C. At first I was suspicious of this photo, but it appears to have been taken by Sriram Satish, an NYU Stern student who lives in that area. I haven't been able to reach Satish, I reached Satish and he says that a friend of his posted it to Facebook, but that he's been in contact with that person and considers it verified. (The context provided in his Twitter feed also gives me confidence that this is a real photograph, i.e. he is a real person living in this area of New York.) It's also important to understand the geographical context of this photo. Though it looks like it was taken in the middle of the city, the East River is very, very close to where the photograph was taken. Take a look for yourself in Google Street View (That's the reverse shot of the image below.)  So, it's plausible that this level of flooding could take place there.

Update: More confirmation of this level of flooding. Christopher Confessore emailed me this video, which was posted to the tenants' association. I'd say that's incontrovertible. 


The latest photo to circulate on social media is a building that collapsed on 8th Ave in Manhattan. It is real. It was posted by journalist Meg Robertson, who has confirmed she took the photo and has posted several follow ups from the scene. (At least one other person near the building has also posted photographs.)


Here's a photo of a shark purportedly swimming in the streets of Brigantine, New Jersey, a city which has experienced serious flooding. This photo is fake. The shark fin was Photoshopped into the image of the city. Tom Phillips found the source shark fin in a Google Image Search, which I've overlaid on the original fake image in the GIF below.

This image popped up while we were researching a *different* supposed shark photo from Brigantine, which we have not been able to verify one way or the other. Though we've found no evidence to indicate that the photo below is fake, we're suspicious because of the number of times fake shark photos have cropped up during floods. The photo below was originally posted by Kevin McCarty, who appears to live in that town. This is a complicated situation because McCarty posted both of these photographs, one of which we now know to be fake, and on the Facebook thread for that image, people call out his Photoshop skills. It's still possible, all these hours later, that the photo below is real and McCarty decided to have some fun with the picture above, or that they are both fakes.

UPDATE 10/30 2:44pm: Mystery solved! It's a fake; a very craftily created Photoshopping job. Snopes tracked down the original photograph. The original on Flickr was taken in 2006 in South Africa


For fun, I overlaid the source photograph on the image of flooded New Jersey, so you can see how the job worked.


This photo of the George Washington Bridge was taken in 2009 and is sold on Getty Images, Eliot Bentley points out


Here we see an example of the third variety: an old, Photoshopped image that's been cropped up for more than half a decade. This Statue of Liberty shot was actually created by merging a supercell image from Nebraska with one from New York. Snopes had long ago done the investigation on this.


Here we see midtown Manhattan in a real photograph ... taken in 2011. This photograph first ran in the Wall Street Journal, as sleuthed by IsTwitterWrong.


Here we see the Old Guard, which guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The photograph is absolutely real, but it was taken in September, as the Old Guard's Twitter feed has been pointing out this afternoon.


Not every stunning image is fake, though. Here's one from Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood. The person who took this photograph, Nick Cope, has confirmed that it was taken today. And there is corroborating evidence both from local officials and journalists that Red Hook streets are flooding, particularly in this warehouse district (which I actually know well).


Updates (These Will Be Rolling)

Below, we see a still from movie, The Day After Tomorrow, which has had a New York TV logo superimposed on it to fool people. 


@twitsplosion sent in this photo of Times Square, which has also been making the rounds. Unfortunately, it's a ZUMA Press image from August 2011. 


The next two pics are both from Atlantic City. I haven't been able to track down the provenance of either, but I think they pass the plausibility test. The first was posted by Weatherboy Weather on Facebook with credit to an unlinked man, Dann Cuellar. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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