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Residents, tourists in Hawaii scrambled for shelter after alert sent in error

False missile warning in Hawaii
False missile warning panics Hawaii 01:33

Just after 8 a.m. in Hawaii on Saturday, mobile phones and televisions warned of an incoming ballistic missile to the island -- an alert that turned out to be an error. In the 38 minutes before an all-clear message was sent, many residents and tourists scrambled for shelter.

The alert said to "seek immediate shelter," and many businesses opened their doors to fleeing residents and visitors, CBS affiliate KMGB reports. Robbyn Levanthal, of Kailua, told KMGB she was the Aloha Gym Fest, where one of her daughters was supposed to be singing, and she said "people were pretty frantic ... nobody really knew what to do."

"At first, people thought their phones were dinging," Levanthal said. "And then they said this isn't a joke, this isn't a drill. So, people started scurrying around, going into bathrooms. And I was with my two little girls, 8 and 10. Kids are crying and nobody really knew what to do."

This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.  Caleb Jones/AP

But others kicked people out, including one gym, according to KMGB.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman Richard Repoza said it's a false alarm and that the agency is trying to determine what happened. 

The incident prompted defense agencies including the Pentagon and the U.S. Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had "detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii."

False alarm: No missile to hit Hawaii 00:28

The alert broadcasted on television said: "If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a nearby building or lie on the floor. We will announce when the threat has ended."  

Martha McKinnon, a teacher in Kailua, told CBSN "when you really see ballistic missile coming, this is not a drill, it's nothing like you can imagine." 

She said she went to the lobby of her apartment building, and she said there were "people in a variety of states," some calm and some crying into the phones. 

"I thought I don't know if I can make that call right now -- I don't know if I can call my family and do that," McKinnon said.

In Waikiki, hotel lobbies and hallways were soon flooded with worried tourists unsure of what steps to take, KMGB reports. 

An electronic sign reads "There is no threat" in Oahu, Hawaii, U.S.
An electronic sign reads "There is no threat" in Oahu, Hawaii, U.S., after a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii, in this January 13, 2018 photo obtained from social media.  Instagram/@sighpoutshrug/via Reuters

"We just packed up what we could and came (downstairs)," one visitor said.

"I was just putting on my makeup when this popped up and I got the biggest fright of my life," another said.

Peter Stone, of Kailua, told KGMB he was paddling — and about 20 minutes offshore — when the alert was sent out.

"We didn't know what to do except paddle in and do as best we could. We debated whether we should just stay out," Stone said.

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