Visitors on dream vacations and residents were awoken by a terrifying alert ordering them to take cover as a ballistic missile rocketed towards the island at 8.07am Saturday.
The alert sent to phones read: ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL’.
At the same time as the phone alert, an emergency alert was broadcast across radio and television networks. It told viewers and listeners: ‘If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows.
‘If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter.’
Over the next 38 minutes, while bungling officials sought to correct the mistake, families huddled in bathtubs and garages crying and praying while waiting for the missile to hit.
Some placed their children in storm drains while others desperately messaged their loved ones to say their final goodbyes.
Terror: People began to flee for their lives after the warning was sent that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii
Fear: Members of the public hurriedly rushed to shelters to escape what they thought could be a nuclear attack
Officials say at about 8.05am a routine test during a shift change was initiated, and at 8.07am a warning was erroneously triggered statewide by an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA).
Social media users soon began posting videos, photos, and testimonials about residents hurriedly taking up shelter.
‘I was sitting in the bathtub with my children, saying our prayers,’ Hawaii state representative Matt LoPresti told CNN in emotional interview after false missile alert.
Sara Donchey wrote: ‘My family was hiding in the garage. My mom and sister were crying. It was a false alarm, but betting a lot of people are shaken.’
‘Talking to loved ones in Hawaii, the reality of the situation is everyone thought they were going to die for 40-minutes,’ another Twitter user said.
‘Let that sink in. Extremely traumatizing and please send your love to everyone there.’
Current NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns tweeted: ‘Words cannot describe the relief my family and I feel that the alarm in Hawaii was false.
‘My girlfriend was born and raised in Hawaii and with most of her family there, the panic was real.
‘We should thank god for every day no matter the struggles and tell our family we love them.’
Residents of Hawaii are furiously asking why it took officials a whole 38 minutes to correct a missile threat warning that was sent out on Saturday morning, sparking panic across the state
Video appears to show a family taking shelter in the sewer through a manhole cover after a false alert of an inbound ballistic missile sparked panic in Hawaii on Saturday morning
‘Under mattresses in the bathtub with my wife, baby and in laws,’ tweeted golfer John Peterson, who was participating in the US PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Honolulu. ‘Please lord let this bomb threat not be real.’
Actor Jim Carrey, like many others, said he woke up thinking he had ‘ten minutes to live’.
CNN host Jake Tapper tweeted: ‘So sorry for all the people in Hawaii who went through that – we know someone who’s there with her family.
‘Crying in closet texting goodbyes to loved ones, husband shielding their baby. Sounds traumatic. Hang in there, folks.’
Maureen McCormick explained: ‘My family in Hawaii got a phone alert and hid in the bathroom with kids for a good 10 minutes thinking “This is going to be it.” So terrifying.’
Lorenza Ingram, a producer for CNN, told the network: ‘We got alerts on our phone… we opened our sliding glass door to look out onto the beach, we saw probably 10 different families running, not walking, running back to their room.’
Another CNN producer, David Shortell, told the network: ‘There was a bit of running and shouting after [the alert was received]… People were nervous.’
One Twitter user wrote: ‘My family was hiding in the garage. My mom and sister were crying. It was a false alarm, but betting a lot of people are shaken’
Shortell described ‘a pretty harrowing 15 minutes’ huddling in a garage with families and young children.
Twitter user Sarah Emerson explained that she received a chilling message from her father, who is in Hawaii with her mother.
‘I know we all shield ourselves from fEeLiNgs with a thick layer of irony these days, but think about those minutes when Hawaii thought this was real. here’s the first thing i saw today,’ she tweeted.
She then posted a screenshot of the message she received from her dad.
‘Hi sweetie,’ the message read. ‘I guess you heard about…[the] missile headed towards Hawaii I guess from Korea…I’m downstairs and…on the stairway.
‘…Just want to tell you I love you I don’t know what’s going on um but I try to give me a call bye…’
Hotels and businesses were inundated with people who came in from the street to take cover.
Robbyn Levinthal, a resident of Kailua, said that she was paddling about 20 minutes offshore when the alert came down.
‘We didn’t know what to do except paddle in and do as best we could. We debated whether we should just stay out,’ Levinthal said.
One tourist staying in Waikiki recalls seeing hotel lobbies and hallways flooded with visitors who were unsure of what to do next.
‘We just packed up what we could and came (downstairs),’ the visitor said.
‘I was just putting on my makeup when this popped up and I got the biggest fright of my life,’ another visitor said.
One Twitter user snapped a photo of people in a shelter. One of those was apparently former NBA superstar Magic Johnson.
John Haltiwanger tweeted that he received a text message from a friend saying: ‘My friends are in a “fall out shelter” in Hawaii due to the missile threat and hanging with Magic Johnson.’
‘Get a false nuclear holocaust alarm, hang with a legend. Only in 2018,’ Haltiwanger tweeted.
Tulsi Gabbard, a US Congresswoman who represents a district in Hawaii, tweeted: ‘Over a million of Hawaii’s people were faced with the immediate reality of having 15 minutes to find a place to “take shelter,” wondering where do I go?
‘What shelter is going to protect me & my family from a nuclear bomb?! But there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.’
For those lucky enough to see it, HI-EMA issued a public notification of cancellation via their Facebook and Twitter accounts at 8.20am, however it took until 8.45am for HI-EMA to issue a ‘Civil Emergency Message’ remotely, cancelling the false alert.
The second message said: ‘There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.’
The false alarm was caused by a HI-EMA employee who ‘pushed the wrong buttons’ during an internal drill timed to coincide with a shift handover.
Incredibly, officials said the employee who made the mistake wasn’t aware of it until mobile phones in the command center began displaying the alert.
‘This guy feels bad, right. He’s not doing this on purpose – it was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,’ said EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi in a press conference Saturday afternoon.
Miyagi, a retired Army major general, said the employee had been with the agency for ‘a while’ and that he would be ‘counseled and drilled so this never happens again’ – but stopped short of saying whether there would be disciplinary measures.