15 Jan 2018

'My first thought was of home' - NZers recount Hawaii missile alert

1:49 pm on 15 January 2018

Many people were unprepared for the ballistic missile alert in Hawaii, though it proved to be a false alarm, New Zealanders living on the islands say.

The false alert was sent by Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency yesterday morning, and was pushed out to mobile phones, television and radio stations.

"Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill," it read.

Hawaiians receive a text warning of a ballistic missile threat but officials later say it was a mistake.

Hawaiians receive a text warning of a ballistic missile threat but officials later say it was a mistake. Photo: Twitter

A correction mobile phone alert was not sent until 38 minutes after the initial message, although correction emails were sent 18 minutes after the alarm was raised.

A professor at the university of Hawaii in Honolulu, New Zealander Moana Nepia told Summer Report he was woken by the phone alert.

"My first thought was of home and my family and my husband in Auckland, and my mother," he said.

"I started filling bottles with fresh water, checking how much food I have in storage and shutting the windows, because the message you get in preparation for these alerts is to stock up on fresh water and food supplies.

"Eventually I was speaking to my husband in New Zealand, counting the minutes. As time passed we see where we might be and nothing happens, and then gradually, 'false alert warning' started.

"Your kind of normal logical step of comprehension is suspended, just you're a bit gutted and filled with uncertainty."

Waikiki, Hawaii

Waikiki neighbourhood on Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

The former Prime Minister, Sir John Key, said he thought it was unusual that he didn't receive the false missile alarm text, but his wife did.

Sir John has been holidaying in Hawaii and said he and Bronagh were on one of the outer-islands, Lanai, when the alert came through.

"I went outside the room to the lobby just to see what was going on, there were a lot of people there and there were a few people in our place that were jumpy obviously and pretty panicky, but for the mostpart, people were calm, the hotel was trying to keep everyone pretty calm and they were doing a good job of that."

Another New Zealander at the university, student Trish Tupou, said she bunkered down in a basement in her dorm for 38 minutes with a small group of others before finding out.

"People were really panicked and to be honest it was terrifying, I've never experienced anything like that before."

She said no one at the university had known how to respond.

"What this alerted us to is that no one is prepared if this actually happens because when I went downstairs - like, I'm in a dorm building, right, so we have a front desk - the staff didn't know what to do.

"No one knew what to do, no one took control of the situation."

The warning system is in place because of the potential proximity of Hawaii to North Korean missiles.

Hawaii is far closer to North Korea, which has been developing a programme of nuclear and ballistic missiles in contravention of UN than any other US state.

The alert message was reportedly sent by an employee pushing the wrong button during a shift change at the emergency management agency.

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