HONOLULU, Hawaii ― For a half-hour on Saturday morning, individuals in Hawaii believed the state was under attack.
The panic started shortly after 8 a.m. when residents, many who were just starting their days, received a striking alert on their cell phones. The same alerts were broadcast on TV and radio stations.
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII,” the statewide emergency alert read. “SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
More than 30 minutes later, the state issued a correction. Gov. David Ige claimed that a state employee had “pressed the wrong button” and sent the alert by accident.
But in those minutes, the fear and panic were real.
This was my phone when I woke up just now. I’m in Honolulu, #Hawaii and my family is on the North Shore. They were hiding in the garage. My mom and sister were crying. It was a false alarm, but betting a lot of people are shaken. @KPRC2pic.twitter.com/m6EKxH3QqQ
— Sara Donchey (@KPRC2Sara) January 13, 2018
The alert forced people to act quickly and make difficult decisions. Is there enough time to gather family members? Should they hide in the closet? Should they take refuge in a tunnel under a mountain? None of these options guaranteed safety.
On a beach on Oahu’s north shore, residents on a morning walk bolted to take cover in their nearby homes. Drivers in cars pulled over to tell pedestrians of the incoming missile.
In Honolulu, people huddled together and waited for the state’s sirens to go off. The state implemented monthly nuclear warning siren tests in December in order to prepare residents of a potential attack on the state. The attack signals (which sound like a minutelong beep) are tested at the beginning of every month, along with the state’s ongoing tsunami warning tests.
Many sent messages of “Goodbye” and “I love you,” in fear they wouldn’t be able to say it again.
“It was surreal, actually,” Chea Paet, 35, told HuffPost. Paet, who lives in the Portlock neighborhood of Honolulu, was unloading his boat at the front of his house when his roommate showed him the alert.
“I immediately ran into the house to wake up my fiancée and told her we needed to get to the guest room or pool in case we saw the blast,” he said, adding that he told his fiancée to text her parents “goodbye in case we didn’t make it.”
“We stood around like it wasn’t actually happening,” said Paet. “I told her I loved her and that this could be the end.”