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22 Jan 2018 19:01
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  •   Home > News > International

    Hawaii missile threat: Locals lived out their 'worst nightmare' as they prepared for the world to end

    In the 38 minutes it took to correct an alert about a false ballistic missile threat to Hawaii, cars were reportedly abandoned on highways and panicked residents gathered family members and desperately sought shelter as they waited for the world to end.

    "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

    It might sound like something straight out of a horror movie, but for 38 minutes terrified Hawaiian residents thought the world was going to end.

    At 8:07am on Saturday (local time), locals and tourists on the small island woke up to a message that many have feared amid North Korea's development of a ballistic nuclear weapon.

    Panicked residents gathered family members, ran out onto the streets and desperately sought shelter as they awaited the attack.

    Cars were reportedly abandoned on highways and people who were outside at the time hid in the homes of neighbours as others prepared to flee.

    Those watching television also had their broadcasts interrupted by the ballistic missile threat alert, according to NBC.

    Stacey Bow, 56, of Honolulu, said she was awakened to the emergency alert on her smart phone and woke up her 16-year-old daughter with the news.

    "She became hysterical, crying, you know, just lost it," she said.

    Cherese Carlson, a tourist visiting Hawaii, said the moments following the alert were filled with fear.

    "There was nothing I could do. I wasn't in an area where I had any friends where I could go into their homes," she said.

    "I literally just sat in my car worried that was it for me because I didn't have a shelter to go to like it said."

    Honolulu resident Phillip Simmons said: "I was thinking of my family. My wife had gone out for a walk, she immediately called me [and had] received the same text. I knew it was important for us to be together at that moment."

    Social media was filled with accounts from horrified Hawaiians, sharing how frantic they were during those 38 minutes.

    "Got the text. Both my wife and I look at each other in unbelief and terror. We looked at our four year old daughter sleeping peacefully," one user wrote on social platform Reddit.

    "We kept quiet and calmed. Sat there in silence whispering to each other things are going to be OK but anger rushing through my head as a father as I felt helpless.

    "Heard a knock on the door. Two joggers terrified asked if they could take shelter with us. We said OK."

    Scared child sent down manhole

    In one video that has surfaced since the alert, a man can be seen telling a child to climb down a manhole to escape the incoming missile attack.

    The child can be heard saying that she didn't want to go in, before she begins to descend into the dark space.

    Others thought that it was a hoax or a false alarm, since the sirens did not ring out.

    "I thought to myself, it must be someone's last day at work or someone got extremely upset at a superior and basically did this as a practical joke," a Honolulu lawyer told The Associated Press.

    "But I think it's a very serious problem if it wasn't that, or even it was, it shows that we have problems in the system that can cause major disruption and panic and anxiety among people in Hawaii."

    Brian Naeole, who was visiting Honolulu from Molokai, said he wasn't worried since he didn't hear sirens and neither TV nor radio stations issued alerts.

    "I thought it was either a hoax or a false alarm," he said.

    Even as residents slowly began to realise it was a false alarm, the horror of what could have been left them reeling.

    ABC News journalist David Spicer received the notification while on holidays in Honolulu.

    He said tourists were gathering in groups on Waikiki Beach, "trying to figure out where to go".

    "I mean, what do you do if you're under imminent threat of a ballistic missile?"

    Many have been stunned by how unprepared they were.

    Actor Jim Carrey tweeted that he woke up to the alert in Hawaii, writing that while it turned out to be a false alarm it was "a real psychic warning".

    Hawaii Governor David Ige said "today is a day that most of us will never forget".

    "A day when many in our community thought that our worst nightmare might actually be happening. A day when many frantically try to think about the things that they would do if a ballistic missile launch would happen," he said.

    "You know, I know firsthand that what happened today was totally unacceptable. And many in our community was deeply affected by this and I'm sorry for that pain and confusion that anyone might have experienced."

    Why did it take 38 minutes to correct the error?

    Many have been left asking why it took so long for emergency management to reveal it was a false alarm, with some residents only finding out it was sent in error because of a tweet sent in the interim by US Representative Tulsi Gabbard.

    A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" did not reach mobile phones until about 40 minutes after the first warning was sent.

    Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency administrator Vern Miyagi said "there was no automated way to send a false alarm cancellation".

    "We had to initiate a manual process. And that was why it took a while to notify everyone," he told a media conference.

    When asked if that was why it took 38 minutes to notify people, he again replied it was due to the "manual process to provide notification on the smartphones and cellphones".

    "We did have other notification that occurred much, much sooner than that," he said.

    The agency had tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but residents who were not on Twitter did not see the correction.

    The administrator apologised and vowed changes, revealing that as a result of this incident they need to "expand the notification protocols" and "make more contacts to notify that this was a false alarm".

    "Again, I apologise for this. This is my responsibility and my team," he said.

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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