Local families in Hawaii shaken by missile scare

Two Prince George families in Hawaii on vacation had a frightening and surreal experience on Saturday morning.

Just before 8:10 a.m. an emergency text message was sent to cellphones across the state of Hawaii that read, "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but messages saying the alert was a false alarm weren't sent to cellphones until 38 minutes later.

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Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty and his family were in their hotel room in the Waikiki neighbourhood of Honolulu when they noticed something was wrong. The family had been making breakfast and packing up on the last day of their Hawaii vacation.

"We had our (patio) sliding door open I heard a loudspeaker. It was coming from another hotel," Doherty said. "I told my wife there was something going on."

Doherty said a neighbouring hotel was giving its guests instructions on what to do, but there was nothing announced on the PA system in his own hotel.

"I found my phone, and that's when I got the message. We gathered around the table and tried to figure out if it was real," Doherty said. "Being in aviation for as long as I was, and dealing with emergency preparedness... There were things that I was looking for that I didn't see. Naively, we were probably more calm than we should have been."

There was no air raid siren, he said, and no warnings on the local TV news station. They flicked through the TV stations, looking for an emergency message or breaking news coverage, but didn't find anything. The news channel was showing coverage of a college basketball game, he said.

Not knowing what else to do, Doherty said, they decided to stay put in the hotel room.

"There was not much we could do -it was just very surreal," he said. "We had a beer and finished our breakfast. We were away from the windows. As a family, we did the best we could given the situation."

If there had been additional warning signs, like the air raid sirens, Doherty said "I don't know how I would have reacted differently."

After the all-clear message came through on their phones, they went down to the hotel lobby, he said.

"When we went downstairs just shortly after there was a lot of very shaken up people," he said. "The whole day, the beach was fairly empty. it was just an odd, odd event."

Afterwards, they found out that some wireless carriers had transmitted the emergency message and others hadn't. Some hotels had warned their guests, others - like the one they were at - didn't.

Events like the one in Hawaii, the shooting in Las Vegas and the false missile alarm in Japan on Tuesday are a reminder to be alert and have an emergency plan, Doherty said.

"We hear about these things, but you never think its going to be you," he said. "Wherever you are... always be aware of your surroundings and have a plan in the event of something going down."

Doherty said after a surreal morning, he had a pleasant surprise as they boarded their Air Canada flight for home. Twenty years ago, Doherty gave a young Prince George man named Romeo Anchetta his first job in aviation.

When the flight attendant announced the crew on the flight, Doherty recognized Achetta's name.

"Now he's a captain for Air Canada," Doherty said. "That was a nice way to end a trip."

While Doherty and his family were in Waikiki wondering what was going on, Prince George couple Patty and Richard Stewart were just getting the news in Maui.

"Richard was in the shower," Patty Stewart said. "Then I heard this really loud, strange alarm that got louder and louder. Then I saw his cell phone."

Stewart said she went running into the bathroom and told her husband, who didn't believe it at first.

"I said, 'No, we're going to die!" We called the hotel lobby to ask what we should do, and they didn't know. There is no place to take cover in Maui," Stewart said. "There was families running from the beach. It was very, very frightening."

For the next 30-35 minutes, they waited in the hotel room, not knowing where to go or if they were going to live.

"We just kind of stood there. We kissed. I said a prayer," she said.

Finally, the news came that it was a false alarm.

Talking with people after the incident, she said it appears the locals were better prepared than the tourists, because disaster drills are conducted in the local schools.

One enterprising local business person tried to make the best of the situation, she said.

"The T-shirts were out within 24 hours, 'I Survived the Ballistic Missile,'" Stewart said. "I didn't buy one. It was not funny!"

-- With files from The Associated Press

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