Thursday | January 18, 2018
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State reacts to morning missile alert

HONOLULU — A false alarm that warned of a ballistic missile headed for Hawaii sent the islands into a panic Saturday, with people abandoning cars in a highway and preparing to flee their homes until officials said the cellphone alert was a mistake.

Hawaii officials apologized repeatedly and said the alert was sent when someone hit the wrong button during a shift change. They vowed to ensure it would never happen again.

For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.

The emergency alert was sent to cellphones statewide just before 8:10 a.m.

On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up. Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst.

Professional golfer Colt Knost, staying at Waikiki Beach during a PGA Tour event, said “everyone was panicking” in the lobby of his hotel.

“Everyone was running around like, ‘What do we do?’” he said.

The incident prompted defense agencies including the Pentagon and the U.S. Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.”

Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably. He also took emergency management officials to task for taking 30 minutes to issue a correction, prolonging panic.

“Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations,” he said in a statement.

The alert caused alarm across social media.

At the PGA Tour’s Sony Open on Oahu, Waialae Country Club was largely empty and players were still a few hours from arriving when the alert showed up.

Workers streamed into the clubhouse trying to seek cover in the locker room, which was filled with the players’ golf bags, but instead went into the kitchen.

Several players took to Twitter. Justin Thomas, the PGA Tour player of the year, tweeted, “To all that just received the warning along with me this morning … apparently it was a ‘mistake’?? hell of a mistake!! Haha glad to know we’ll all be safe.”

 

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