False ballistic missile alarm sends Hawaii into panic
This is only a test.
A frightening false alarm warning of a missile strike scared Hawaiians Saturday morning as cell phones across the state advised that the alert was “not a drill.”
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER,” the terrifying 8:10 a.m. text read in all caps.
The message also blared across television sets in the state — where residents have been on edge in recent months amid growing tensions between the Trump administration and North Korea.
Social media erupted as a flurry of people seeking assurances of safety or confirmation of their worst fears shared the communication.
“We are aware of the reports and are looking into it,” a Pentagon spokeswoman told the Daily News minutes after the notice was sent out.
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sought to calm nerves and quickly dismissed the accidental alarm.
“NO missile threat to Hawaii,” the agency tweeted.
A corrected alert advising that “there is no missile threat or danger to the state of Hawaii” was sent out a harrowing 38 minutes after the initial warning — well after nerves across the idyllic island were rattled.
Traffic came to a standstill, shop owners scrambled to shutter stores and panicked tourists were stuck searching for answers on their phones when the early morning warning came through, residents and visitors said.
Video of a small girl being helped into a storm drain to take shelter was shared on social media.
Patty Lee, a 30-year-old freelance writer from Brooklyn, was enjoying the last day of her honeymoon with her husband, Calvin Lam, when the scare occurred.
The young couple, hoping to spend their time in paradise “disconnecting and not reading the news,” were en route to the famed Leonard’s Bakery, in Waikiki, after a hike when they received the push alert.
“We just weren’t sure what to do,” Lee told The News. “We tried to Google shelters and find somewhere to go, but there wasn’t any information or plan.”
The terrified pair found the lack of official information disturbing and got the all clear through social media.
“There was a sense of disbelief, everybody was walking around shaking their heads,” Lee said of the aftermath.
Golfer John Peterson, three shots out of the lead in the third round of the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club, was at his hotel ahead of the conclusion of the tournament.
For more than ten minutes, people who got the alert went into panic mode until they got another Civil Defense message that stated the message was a false alarm.
(Tim Wright/Splash News)
“Under mattresses in the bathtub with my wife, baby and in-laws. Please lord let this bomb threat not be real,” Peterson tweeted.
Hawaii state representative Matt LoPresti also sought shelter in his bathroom.
“I was sitting in the bathtub with my children, saying our prayers,” he told CNN.
The White House said President Trump, spending the weekend in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise.”
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman Richard Repoza said authorities were trying to determine what caused the incident.
Sen. Brian Schatz(D-Hawaii) called for the alert system to be fool-proofed.
“It was a false alarm based on a human error. There is nothing more important to Hawaii than professionalizing and fool-proofing this process,” he said.
Gov. David Ige said he too was trying to figure out what happened.
“While I am thankful this morning’s alert was a false alarm, the public must have confidence in our emergency alert system,” he said in a statement.
Others on the island said the current political climate and other warnings accentuated the fear.
“False alarm. But for all the other misfires and rogue sirens here, what does it say that we live in a time where we have to assume it’s possible? Still shaking,” tweeted journalist Ryan Ozawa.
Last month Hawaii tested nuclear attack warning sirens for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
Pyongyang said that it has recently tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching the American mainland. It has also threatened to bomb the waters near Guam, a U.S. territory.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump have engaged in an escalating war of words that included a combative comparison of their “nuclear buttons” recently.
“The nuclear button is always on the desk of my office,” Kim said in a New Year’s speech. “They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality.”
Trump responded via Twitter, saying, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”