Panic and confusion as Hawaii residents scramble for shelter

Left: An electronic sign in Oahu, Hawaii, reads "There is no threat" after the false alert, which was not corrected for 38 minutes.
An electronic sign in Oahu, Hawaii, reads "There is no threat" after the false alert, which was not corrected for 38 minutes.PHOTO: REUTERS
Left: An electronic sign in Oahu, Hawaii, reads "There is no threat" after the false alert, which was not corrected for 38 minutes.
Desperate to get their children to safety, some parents in Hawaii told their children to hide in manholes during Saturday's false missile alert. PHOTO: ANUHEAPERRY / TWITTER VIA STORYFUL

HONOLULU • Panic and confusion swept Hawaii on Saturday as a mistaken alert about a ballistic missile attack spread across the Pacific US state, sending residents and tourists scrambling for shelter and questioning why an all-clear was not issued faster.

Ms Rhonda Ramirez and Mr Michael Sterling, both 56 and from Los Angeles, were staying at a hotel in the Waikiki tourist district when the state emergency agency issued the bogus alert at 8.07am.

Ms Ramirez, a mortgage broker, "immediately started crying". "I was thinking, 'What could we do? There is nothing we can do with a missile,'" said Mr Sterling, a law firm employee.

The hotel told guests to stay indoors and about 30 minutes later, announced the all-clear.

Another resident, Mr Ikaika Hussey, blamed Hawaii's status as a potential target on its being home to the US Pacific Command and the navy's Pacific Fleet. "Militarism is reducing, not enhancing, our security," he said.

The false alert, which was not corrected for 38 minutes, came amid high international tensions over North Korea's development of ballistic nuclear weapons. Many in Hawaii learnt it was false because of a tweet sent in the interim by US Representative Tulsi Gabbard.

Meanwhile, some of the world's top professional golfers were panicked by the false report, with one hiding under a mattress and another fleeing to the basement of his Honolulu hotel.

The alert was sent mistakenly some three hours before the start of the third round of the PGA Tour's Sony Open.

 
 

"So... this can't be good. Everyone is freaking out in the hotel," Steve Wheatcroft tweeted at 8.14am local time.

Another player, J. J. Spaun, took refuge in his hotel basement. "Barely any service. Can you send confirmed message over radio or TV," he said in a tweet at 8.26am.

World No. 4 Justin Thomas, the defending champion, however, appeared not to be as perturbed as his fellow professionals.

"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," Thomas tweeted at the same time as Spaun.

Speaking after the third round, which started on time at Waialae Country Club, Thomas said he had not got the original warning and was aware of it only after he received a screenshot from fellow pro Tom Lovelady.

"I was like 'there's nothing I can do,'" Thomas said of his original equanimity. "I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music.

"I was like, if it's my time, it's my time."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline 'Panic and confusion as Hawaii residents scramble for shelter'. Print Edition | Subscribe