FACT CHECK: Old photos misrepresented as ‘earthquake lights’ in Surigao del Sur

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FACT CHECK: Old photos misrepresented as ‘earthquake lights’ in Surigao del Sur
The photos showing flashes in the sky were taken in India and Mexico. The misleading post was made following the 7.4 magnitude quake in Surigao del Sur on December 2.

Claim: Earthquake lights, or flashes of light that appear in the sky when an earthquake occurs, appeared in Hinatuan, Surigao Del Sur following the December 2 quake. 

Rating: FALSE

Why we fact-checked this: The Facebook post containing the claim was posted on December 3 at 3:43 am, and has 144 shares, 2 comments, and 29 reactions as of writing. 

The post contains four photos purportedly showing the earthquake lights, accompanied by the caption “Tinood [jud] somewhere in [H]inatuan, Surigao del [S]ur” (I saw this somewhere in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur). 

It was posted hours after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake hit Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur on December 2. More than 900 aftershocks of varying intensities were felt in Northern Mindanao after the quake, which damaged bridges in Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro.

The facts: Three of the photos used in the post were not taken in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, let alone this year, but were grabbed from photos and videos taken in India and Mexico in 2015 and 2017, respectively. 

India, 2015: The second photo in the misleading Facebook post shows a green meteor lighting up the sky in India in October 2015. A reverse image search of the photo reveals that it was originally taken by Prasenjeet Yadav, an Indian photographer. 

Yadav’s photo was given an honorable mention in the landscapes category of National Geographic’s 2016 Nature Photographer of the Year contest.

Agence France-Presse and One Press debunked a similar post containing the same photo in an earlier fact check. 

Mexico, 2017: The first and third photos in the post feature a screenshot from a 2017 footage of light flashes in the sky following a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in Mexico. According to a 2017 Forbes article, the green flashes captured on camera were “reflections on the clouds of electric shorts and exploding infrastructure in the city’s streets.” 

Politifact had earlier debunked a similar claim that used the same photo.

Not a photo of earthquake lights: The fourth photo in the post was indeed taken in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, but shows coastal water retreating in an unnamed area following the December 2 quake. 

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology issued a tsunami warning at 11:05 pm on December 2, advising residents in the coastal areas of Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental to move to higher ground. The warning was lifted past 3 am on December 3. – Ailla Dela Cruz/

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