'She thought that was her last moments' - Incorrect Hawaiian missile alert causes fear

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Associated Press

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

The alert stated there was a threat "inbound to Hawaii".
Source: Associated Press

In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologised for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button.

"We made a mistake," said Miyagi.

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, which was sent to cellphones statewide just before 8:10 am (local time), said: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

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, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. 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.

Richard Ing, a Honolulu attorney, was doing a construction project at home when his wife told him about the alert. His wife and children prepared to evacuate while he tried to figure out what was happening.

Cherese Carlson, in Honolulu for a class and away from her children, said she called to make sure they were inside after getting the alert.

"I thought, 'Oh my god, this is it. Something bad's about to happen and I could die,'" she said.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" didn't reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.

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."

The White House said President Donald Trump, at his private club in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it "was purely a state exercise."

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.

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