An alert about an incoming ballistic missile sent Hawaii into panic for about 30 minutes on Saturday, until emergency officials announced that the message had been sent in error.
Tensions between the Trump administration and nuclear-armed North Korea have increased over fears the regime in Pyongyang may be able to reach US territory with a nuclear-armed missile.
Hawaiian authorities have been preparing and testing early warning systems, and residents have been urged to make emergency plans.
“Everyone’s got a plan,” said Ashly Trask, 39, who lives on the island of Kauai. “It’s very real.”
Trask’s home, like many on the islands, is constructed with single-ply walls and has no basement. When the alert came, Trask said, she piled her mother, 15-year-old son, two-year-old daughter and partner into the car, swung by her other son’s workplace to pick him up, and then sped to her office at the botanical gardens: a building with concrete walls that is used as a hurricane shelter.
“It was definitely kind of a panic zone,” she said. “Everyone knows you have about 15 minutes until detonation, and no one knows where it will land.”
Family members on the other side of the island were too far away to get to the gardens within that short timespan.
“They called us and they were crying because they realized they wouldn’t have made it to us,” Trask said.
In western Oahu, people ran out of buildings into the streets. According to a witness, some took shelter in the basement of a parking structure, where people cried and children huddled on rolls of fabric.
Approximately 30 minutes later, authorities said the alert was a mistake.
Many in the parking shelter hugged, cried, shook and prepared to head back outside. Others said they would remain undercover until they received confirmation from the coast guard that all was safe.
Hawaii governor David Ige told CNN the false alarm was caused by human error. “It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button,” he said.