World

Hawaii panics after false alert on incoming missile

Warning sent out after 'wrong button was pushed'

HONOLULU An alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile aimed at Hawaii was sent in error on Saturday, sowing panic and confusion across the US state - which is already on edge over the risk of attack - before officials dubbed it a "false alarm".

Emergency management officials eventually determined that the notification was sent just after 8am (2am yesterday, Singapore time) during a shift change and a drill after "the wrong button was pushed" - a mistake that lit up phones across the archipelago with a disturbing alert urging people to "seek immediate shelter".

The erroneous message came after months of soaring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, with North Korea saying it has successfully tested ballistic missiles that could deliver atomic warheads to the US.

If a missile were launched by North Korea towards Hawaii, the islands' 1.4 million residents would have only about 20 minutes' notice before it hit, according to CNN.

"I deeply apologise for the trouble and heartbreak that we caused today," said Mr Vern Miyagi, administrator of Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

"We made a mistake. We are going to take processes and study this so that this does not happen again."

The warning - which came across the Emergency Alert System that the authorities nationwide use to delivery vital emergency information - read: "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

As social media ignited with screenshots of the emergency warning, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard quickly tweeted that it was a "false alarm," with the EMA confirming "there is no missile threat to Hawaii".

A US military spokesman later said the US Pacific Command "has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error".

A corrected message indicating that "there is no missile threat or danger to the state of Hawaii" was not dispatched to phones until nearly 40 minutes later.

In explaining the delay, Hawaii Governor David Ige noted there was no automatic way to cancel the false alarm, so it had to be done manually.

The Federal Communications Commission said it was launching a "full investigation" into the incident.

Though the alert was quickly deemed false, many Hawaii residents heeded the warning, scrambling to take refuge in hallways and basements.

Several golfers participating in the US PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu also reacted to the alarming episode.

"Under mattresses in the bathtub with my wife, baby and in laws," US golfer John Peterson tweeted. "Please lord let this bomb threat not be real."- AFP

WORLD