Jerald Colobong of Puhi received a text on his phone while he was still sleeping Saturday morning, and the notification about a “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII” snapped him up.
“I immediately got up and I was scared shitless. I was just super scared, so I started going on social media, and then I was flipping through the (TV) channels, and there was nothing on the news,” he said. “I was like, what are we going to do? I was just scared because we were not prepared for this. I mean, there’s bomb shelters here, but they didn’t tell us where to go. I would have gone to Chiefess (Kamakahelei Middle School). It just freaked me out. I was really scared. I thought I was going to die today.”
The missile warning urged people to “SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Some did. Many weren’t sure what to do. Some dismissed it. Reactions around Kauai were varied.
At Metamorphose Yoga in Kilauea, acclaimed Kauai concert pianist Monica Chung, who also teaches yoga, was about to start a class for about 10 students when the alert flashed on her phone. Without losing her composure, she asked one of the students whether the message seemed authentic. The student noted that no sirens were sounding, so it was probably a false alarm.
The yoga class then progressed with no one in the room remotely aware of the threat of imminent nuclear attack. Ironically, the posted style of the 8 a.m. class was “Therapeutic.”
“It was a hell of a way to wake up,” said Harry Snodgress, a Kilauea resident and U.S. Army veteran. “It makes you wonder how screwed up the warning system could be. Would we really know about the real thing before the bomb actually went off?”
Diana Terrazas, another Kilauea resident, thought Hawaii was under attack. Quickly, she checked with two of her four daughters, who told her they had gotten cell phone warnings, too. The younger of the two, a 14-year-old, was frightened, Terrazas said.
“It was just the fear of the unknown,” she said.
Another daughter, who is 22, was heading to a Westside surfing spot with her boyfriend when her phone lit up with the alarm, Terrazas said. The daughter was stuck in the traffic backed up in Wailua from the serious car crash there.
“She asked me what she should do,” Terrazas said, “and all I could tell her was to get inside. But then she asked: ‘Get inside where?’”
At the Hanalei fire station in Princeville, the phone rang off the hook as visitors and residents came to the station hoping to get clarity about whether the warning was genuine. But firefighters there said the people they encountered were more concerned than panicked. The firefighters, all of whom have families on island themselves, could only wait anxiously for further clarification through channels at the Kauai Fire Department.
The social media platform Facebook figuratively exploded as people all over the world began messaging friends and relatives who live in Hawaii.
Author and Kauai resident Samantha Geimer was flooded with panicked Facebook messages. Geimer is publicly prominent as the victim in the child sex case of famed film director Roman Polanski. She has lived on Kauai since the 1970s. Said Geimer on Facebook: “I guess panicking in Hawaii is making coffee and shrugging our shoulders.”
Tod Walker stopped by the Wailua Country Store Saturday morning after the alert was canceled and said all he could do when he saw the incoming missile alert was think of his keiki.
“I went to the TV and Facebook to try and find the truth,” Walker said. “I told my kids, ‘Grab your coconuts and hide behind a tree, because you’ve got 15 minutes.’”
His fear was calmed after U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard released a statement confirming the alert was a false alarm.
“The reality is, there are no shelters here,” he said.
Walker said there should be consequences for putting “that much fear into people,” and half-joked he might need to see a therapist.
“I just kept it light for my kids,” Walker said. “After, when the whole thing was over, I went into the bathroom and cried a little.”
Liz Hahn of Waimea was on her way to the Kauai Community Market, past Kaumakani, when her phone started going off.
“I just made my way to the Westside Pharmacy and my friend, Bill Farlander, had some cream cheese bagels. I hadn’t had bagel in years, but I said, ‘What the hell, I’m with good friends, I might as well enjoy some bagels.’”
Terry Gordines was stuck in traffic due to the auto accident in Wailua. Gordines was outside the Longs Drugs, Kapaa store.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Gordines said. “I turned and went to Longs. Credit should go to the store manager who allowed us in the store before closing the doors. Once inside, people discovered the phones didn’t work so the manager told one of the clerks to get a radio and batteries so we knew what was going on.”
Shane Shibuya was among the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School contingent that was housed in the Kauai Community College fine dining facility.
“My mother went off,” Shane said. “I wasn’t that freaked out. We just had to sit it out.”
Cathy Schmidgall of Minnesota and Jill Miner of Utah were among the shoppers at the Kauai Community Market.
Miner said she sent a text to her kids, saying, “This could be it. I love you.” They sent back a text saying, “Send us a picture.”
Joan Heller of Lawai said it was good the incident took place.
“This is a wake-up call from every level — Trump, state and county. The worst thing is that we don’t have any fallout shelters, but it is now out in the public. This was the best scenario to happen. We need to start talking, and voters need to think about this,” Heller said.
Andy Gonzales of Kapaa said he wasn’t too worried because he was in church when he got the alert.
“I was with a bunch of brothers in Bible study and so we all just looked at each other and said if it was time to go, it was time to go. What can you really do?” he said. “You can’t really rush anywhere to get to shelter, because that’s where you are at. You’re probably the most shelter you can be at if you’re in church.”
Gonzales said if there’s another alert, he will probably react the same way.
“It is what it is. I have faith in my higher power and they say, ‘God’s going to come like a thief in the night. Nobody knows the time or the place.’ Nobody really knows when it will be. If it comes and happens to be that way, than it is what it is. I’m really not trippin’ too much.
Andrew Jansen of Kapaa was confused by the alert.
“I went into emergency mode and started getting things together in my house and started internet searching whether this was real or not and then my roommate said, ‘Dude, there’s no sirens, if there was a siren, it’d be a real emergency.’ Then I calmed down and said, ‘OK.’ Then looked it up, didn’t find anything on the internet, didn’t find anything on Twitter, listened to the radio and they said it was fake and said, ‘OK we’re good.’”
Sarah Ridenour of Kapaa said her first reaction was that it was a mistake.
“But since they didn’t correct it, it became a little bit more unsure or uncertain, but just really kind of pointless to run into shelter, because where do you really shelter in a situation like this? I just called my loved ones on the Mainland and told everybody I loved them and waited for the rest of the story.”
She also called her grandson, who lives on Kauai.
“He was pretty upset and that was the most disturbing part, because my 7-year-old grandson was crying that the missile was on the way and then there was confusion and we were trying to figure out if it was real or not.”
Tori Kagawa, Waimea High varsity boys soccer assistant coach, said she was initially in shock.
“We were confused because no sirens were going off. No anything. It’s not that I didn’t think a huge deal of it. It’s just, on the inside I was nervous, but there wasn’t much I could do. It said, ‘Get shelter.’ What does that mean? Stay indoors? Then I thought about bomb shelters. We don’t really have anything like that to go to. We’ve never really been faced in this kind of situation before. Besides my house, I don’t know where else I would run to.”
She said a lot of people were frantic.
“Some of my friends who were in the stores, they were sharing their stories of, tourists were asking them, ‘What are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go?’ So, they just told them, ‘Hang out in here because it’s shelter.’”
Evan Costa of Wailua Houselots was riding his bike to get a workout in when the emergency alert reached him.
“All I could do, really, was just turn around. Shortly after, I was going to call my wife, and she called me right when I thought of it — right when I saw it. She asked me to come home (and asked where I was). I told her, ‘Yeah, I’m coming home.’”
He saw people speeding and panicking.
“It puts the perspective of, you never know,” Costa said. “Who knows how many more of these we will get that’s possibly going to be real. Just spend time with your family when you can, as much as you can, because you never know.”
Pam Varma of Wailua said neither she nor her fiance, Lincoln Gill, received the alert. A friend, Steve Geyer, called Gill.
“That’s how we found out,” Varma said. “I turned my car around and drove straight home to be with Lincoln. Where better to be than with the person I love the most?”
Wailua resident Julian Coiner was out on a run when the alert hit his cell.
“Immediately called my girlfriend and told her to go to the lower part of the house, fill the bathtub with water, shut the windows and close the blinds so if it impacted near us the broken glass in the windows would not become flying razor blades. I ran home as fast as I could and grabbed as much food and my Uniden Bearcat to be able to listen to police and emergency warnings, and headed to the lower level and monitored the television and Bearcat!”
His girlfriend, he added, did not get the alert.
Jessica Olivas of Lihue was on the road near Eleele with her husband Norvin Olivas Sr., headed for the Hanapepe fields and senior softball, when the alert came in. They contacted their son, Norvin Olivas Jr., who lives nearby. The son told the parents to come to his house for shelter.
They did not, and kept going to the Hanapepe fields.
“Dad wouldn’t turn around. We didn’t know where to go. We kept driving, said ‘We’re going to the baseball game.’ My heart was beating, just fear, scared, what was going to happen. What we going do now? Nothing.”
Marquis Dawkins of Lihue had this to say: “My friends, this is what you call 38 minutes of panic, heart palpitations, reevaluation of faith and wonder if working 15 hours a day is even worth it anymore and you should have just followed up on that ‘sell everything and go to live in the Shaolin Temple’ idea you had like 12 years ago.”
Bev Brody, Get Fit Kauai director, was driving to lead an exercise class in Kapaa when she received the alert. It said that anyone driving should pull over and take shelter.
“I looked makai and could go into the water,” she said. “Mauka, I could hide under a tree. There was nowhere to go.”
So she called her husband.
“I told him I loved him,” Brody said.
As she continued driving and passed the store and post office in Anahola, she noted that some people were just talking, drinking coffee and acting like it was a normal morning. A few cars were pulled over to the side of the road.
“Why am I the only one freaking out here?” she wondered.
She headed to her class at the Kapaa Neighborhood Center, where she figured she would be surrounded by people she loves.
And yes, the class went on.
“Almost everyone showed up,” Brody said.
Later, she went grocery shopping. “Now I’m going home to build a bomb shelter,” Brody said, laughing.
Tyren Hepa of Hanamaulu slept through the entire ordeal, and said if that had been an actual attack, then a better siren system is needed.
TGI writers Jessica Else, Dennis Fujimoto, Bethany Feudenthal, Nick Celario, Bill Buley and Allan Parachini contributed to this report.