Fear of a North Korean missile attack gripped Hawaiians on Saturday after the state sent them a cell-phone message about a ballistic missile heading towards the archipelago.
The message, in all caps, sent at 8 am said people have to find shelter in 15 minutes if they wanted to stay alive.
As Hawaiians scrambled for cover, the state’s Emergency Management Agency tweeted at 8.20 am: “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”
People with access to twitter were relieved while others had to suffer 38 agonising minutes until they received a second phone alert saying it was a false alarm. Some say they never received a second phone alert.
A spokeswoman for Hawaii Governor David Ige said the goof-up was caused by a civil defence official who pressed the wrong button during changeover of shift.
Amid increasing threats of a nuclear missile strike from North Korea, Hawaai had revived a Cold War-era siren warning system for nuclear attack from December last year. While explaining how it works, Ige had said the siren warning citizens of a nuclear attack will have a different tone from that for hurricane or tsunami. But there was no mention of message alerts about nuclear attacks on people’s cell-phones.
Two military officials told NBC news it is unlikely the military initiated the phone alert on Saturday.
The Federal Communications Commission will launch an investigation into the incident.
Democratic representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii wanted to know how such an important alert was sent out by mistake and why it took so long for the corrected message to reach the phones of terrified citizens.
The Civil Defence department was inundated with phone calls after people received the first text message warning of the approaching missile.