Kiwi woman tells of horrific Hawaii missile false alarm

14/01/2018

Just after 8am on Saturday morning (local time) an emergency message was sent to all Hawaii cellphones alerting residents to an imminent missile threat.

"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII," it read in all-caps. "SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

It was later revealed as a false alarm.

Kiwi woman Lotty Roberts was holidaying in Hawaii with her husband and three children when she received the message.

I was in disbelief.

I said to my husband, 'Look at this! Look at this!' Because it said it wasn't a drill it really freaked me out."

While her husband was unfazed, Ms Roberts went out to the corridor of the Aulani Disney Resort where she was staying.

"There were people going, 'Did you get this message?' and everybody had, at which point my heart was just beating out of my chest.

"My husband was still adamant it was a hoax. I said, 'I don't care. I want everybody to get their shoes on straight away and let's get out.' My 10-year-old is probably the one that got the most anxious because he's old enough to understand."

Ms Roberts and her family followed the crowd down to the hotel lobby, where staff told guests to go to the outside of the hotel, near the beach.

 "Staff had no idea. I thought, 'If this is real, that's not the place you would head.'

"We kept asking each other if anybody had heard anything. There was a state of confusion and everybody seemed really worried.

"We all went back into the hotel and people were confused and scared and crying and not understanding why there wasn't any information at all."

Ms Roberts phoned a friend on the other side of Hawaii, who said she also received the text and was on the way to pick up her son.

There was a blackout for half an hour. There was no news.

"There was nothing, a dearth of information.

"My husband was still adamant that it was not real because there were no sirens. He's a very logical thinker."

Almost 40 minutes later, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard confirmed with officials it was a false alarm, sent out in error.

"HAWAII - THIS IS A FALSE ALARM," she wrote on Twitter, also in all caps. "THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE TO HAWAII. I HAVE CONFIRMED WITH OFFICIALS THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE."

Hawaii Governor David Ige told CNN the accident appears to have happened when someone "pushed the wrong button" during a change of shift.

Ms Roberts told Newshub she was still shaking, hours later.

"Hands down the scariest thing I have ever been through. Even now, I feel like I've got a fist in my stomach. I can still feel that rush of adrenalin going through me."

In the hours since the panic, Ms Roberts has been questioning the validity of sending out text alerts in a crisis.

"If there was a real nuclear missile, alerts are completely useless. All you do is put fear into people. There's nothing you can do; you don't have time. There's nowhere you can go."

Still, she wants to know what went wrong.

"My husband is angry that something like this could happen. You can't just flick a switch and somebody sends out a wrong alert. Scaring 1.5 million people is not a joke.

"Everybody's talking about it, everybody's shaken, both locals and tourists. There's this subdued aura around the place that wasn't here yesterday. You can feel it everywhere you go.

"To be honest, if I could get on a plane to come back to New Zealand now I would. I'd rather have earthquakes and Mother Nature than this. When something like this happens you just want to be home.

"Yesterday I was moaning about my kids misbehaving. Today it just feels good to be alive - give me a hug, kids. It brings you back to what really matters."

The Federal Communications Commission has launched a full investigation into the incident. 

This story was orginally published by Newshub.