Canada Hamilton, Brantford couples in Hawaii prepared for the end

10:00  14 january  2018
10:00  14 january  2018 Source:   Toronto Star

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This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday.© Marco Garcia This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday.

They had 10 minutes to live.

So they used it well: they dressed, packed up some water and their medications, sent “I love you” texts to bewildered family back home in Hamilton and Brantford. They hugged each other and drank two shots of vodka.

Then they waited for the ballistic missile to hit.

This was how Saturday started for two local couples vacationing in Hawaii. In a place called Paradise, to be exact.

“You make your amends with God,” Mike says an hour after he learned he would live another day.

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For 38 minutes, people in Hawaii thought they might die after a button was mistakenly pushed and an official alert blasted out to cellphones across the state telling people the worst had happened — nuclear missiles were heading straight for them.

It was a colossally frightening false alarm.

Mike and Suzie, married 21 years, are from Hamilton and have been enjoying Paradise for a few weeks now. They don’t want their last names published for home safety reasons. They are away with another couple, from Brantford.

They thought that walking across lava fields, climbing peaks and doing helicopter tours would be the adventurous highlights of their trip. But at 8:07 a.m. Saturday, all their cellphones suddenly blared a deafening sirenlike sound and the screens filled with this emergency alert: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

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With very real international concerns about North Korea’s nuclear capability — concerns the Canadian couples had joked about before heading to the United States — they accepted that the alert was real.

“What do you do?” says Mike. “You’ve never been trained on what to do with an incoming ballistic missile. You can’t run. You can’t hide.”

They quickly turned on CNN, which had nothing. Nor did any major TV network. But a local Hawaii TV station was on it, saying it could be 10 to 12 minutes until the missile hit and advising, mostly, what not to do.

Stay away from windows. Don’t try to drive anywhere.

Their phones wouldn’t allow them to make outgoing calls, but they could text. So they sent brief messages out, just saying “I love you.” Nobody wanted to waste precious seconds explaining.

Later, when the alert had been deemed an error, they received messages back from loved ones who did not yet know why they’d received the random texts.

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“WTF?” one relative replied.

“Huh?,” a 21-year-old son responded to his mom.

With the 10 minutes ticking down before impact, the women raced upstairs in their pjs to throw on clothes. Gallows humour kicked in.

“What do we wear for this?” they joked as they choked back tears. Clean underwear for sure, they agreed.

Back in front of the TV, the couples hugged, expressed their love for each other and then downed vodka shots. Two of them, because clearly one was not enough in this situation.

Suzie held the crucifix that dangles from her neck and prayed.

Somehow, they held things together. Nobody fell apart. They tried to stay calm as, elsewhere, people ran off the beaches in panic.

“People were running for their lives,” Suzie says of the pandemonium. “But at least we’ll die in Paradise.”

As minutes passed, Mike wondered if, out on the streets, “civility would reign true” or if panic would unleash hell even before the missiles landed.

While he was contemplating the weighty question, their cellphones screamed again.

“THERE IS NO MISSILE THREAT OR DANGER TO THE STATE OF HAWAII. REPEAT. FALSE ALARM.”

They were relieved, of course. Grateful. Shaken. But also angry.

“I’m angry that something so careless like this can happen,” says Suzie.

So what do you do when the end of the world is a false alarm?

“We had another shot of vodka,” Mike says.

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