The vague warning jolted citizens in and around Salem, Oregon to attention on May 29.
"Civil Emergency in this area until 1128PM," read the text message alert. "Prepare for action."
It was a ham-handed message — one that left some wondering if an attack was imminent. In fact, the danger officials wanted to warn them about wasn’t coming from the sky.
It was coming from their taps.
For the first time in Oregon’s history, toxins from a nearby algae bloom had made their way into a city’s tap water. The danger was limited — toxins were at low enough levels to only pose dangers to vulnerable populations, like children, pets, or nursing mothers.
But the fallout was immediate. Within hours of the alert, Salemites had cleared grocery stores and gas stations of their bottled water supplies. Videos surfaced of some shopkeepers gouging shoppers: $48 for a case of water bottles, in one instance. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown sent in the National Guard […]