‘Seek immediate shelter': Hawaiians panic, say last goodbyes after false missile alert

WASHINGTON: Panic struck the state of Hawaii, one of the closest US destinations to North Korea, Saturday morning as an emergency alert of an incoming missile flashed across cellphones in the archipelago and lasted 38 minutes despite assurances from officials and agencies that it was a false alarm.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (EMA)  scrambled to end the panic with a second message that it was a false alarm.

As social media ignited with screenshots of the cell phone emergency warning, Hawaii's EMA confirmed that there was no missile threat.

Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic Congresswoman from the state and co-chair of the India Caucus, also tweeted on similar lines at 8:20 am local time.Residents and tourists in the state, which has in view of the threat from North Korea reactivated cold-war era nuclear attack sirens, went into panic, ran for shelter and, some of them, had began texting out their last goodbyes to their loved one.

President Donald Trump, who was on a golf course in Florida at the time, was briefed about it, the White House said in a statement, and went on to add it "was purely a state exercise". He was also informed immediately it was a mistake.

But it remained unclear how the mistake came about. Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which runs these emergency services with private wireless providers and state agencies, had ordered an inquiry.

The state was in full emergency mode, people and businesses, and let up only after the final all-clear that went out at 8:45 am.

The false alarm sent social media into an overdrive with screenshots of the cell phone emergency warning.But lives had been turned upside down for those few minutes.

"I literally sent out ‘I love you' texts to as many family members as I could, Noah Tom, a Honolulu resident said to The Washington Post. "It was all kind of surreal at that point."

Celeste Russell, anther Honolulu resident told a local news publication Honolulu Star-Advertiser, "There was a red light and people were beeping their horns for people to go through it, instead of stopping, because obviously, they wanted to get home themselves. So it was bad."

United Airlines cleared its lobby at Honolulu airport and sent passengers downstairs to the baggage claim area, according to the advertiser, and workers at Pearl Harbour were scrambling to get off the base.

There is a three-step for sending out such alerts. The process is triggered by a message communicated through a special line by the US Pacific Command. The Hawaii EMA, which receives it, uses a checklist of protocols to verify it and then an alert is sent out manually.

The Saturday alert was sent by mistake but it might have tapped right into worries and concerns already felt in the state because of the intensifying rhetoric between the US and North Korea, with Pyongyang successfully testing a ballistic missile that US experts have acknowledged can reach any part of the American mainland.

Gabbard accused Trump of "posturing" and not taking nuclear threats from North Korea seriously and urged to begin direct talks with Pyongyang without preconditions.

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