Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Hawaiian missile attack hits Haines


January 18, 2018


That emergency alert flashed across the screens of Haines vacationers’ and snow birds’ phones Saturday morning after a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee clicked the wrong button on a computer during a routine drill.

Hugh Rietze lives in a rural area outside of Naalehu, a small town with a population of less than 1000, on the southern tip of Hawaii. Rietze said his remote location made futile any effort to escape an incoming ballistic missile.

“You could probably run, but you certainly couldn’t hide here,” Rietze said. “The real concern was (the question of) how good a shot was the guy. Is he going to shoot at Honolulu, and will it end up here in the sticks?”

Reitze and his wife Jill watched more severe reactions on news covering Honolulu and other large towns.

Russ Lyman and his wife Cynthia had just finished breakfast at their home in Kona when the message dinged their phones. Lyman might have been taken by surprise if a real missile had hit. He missed the first alert.

“We get them sometimes for high surf warning,” Lyman said. “I didn’t look at it until the second one went off five or ten minutes later. I don’t know if we were just in denial or what, but I actually couldn’t take it totally seriously for some reason.”

Steve and JoAnn Ross Cunningham’s morning was more adventurous. They were eating a melon at an Air B&B in Kauai when they received the texts, JoAnn said. Steve conducted a quick Google search for the closest emergency shelter. Google gave them the location of a nearby Hindu temple. However, upon arrival the Ross Cunninghams found the gates locked. Visiting hours were only from 9 a.m. to noon.

The couple found a private entrance and sat at the temple’s steps. Soon after a temple volunteer and a monk asked why they were there. The monk wasn’t aware the temple was available as a shelter. When Steve tried to prove it with a second Google search, the monastery wasn’t listed in the search results.

“He talked with us and seemed to have some authority and seemed concerned hordes of evacuees might show up,” JoAnn said. “But we were the only ones.”

It took 38 minutes for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to send out the alert that the missile attack was in error.

Around 8:45 a.m. the false alarm text blipped on the Ross Cunningham’s phones. Relaxed, they approached an urn where visitors could write down their concerns and burn them in the vessel.

“Steve burned something about two international political figures who seem to have a pesky feud going on,” JoAnn said.

The emergency management agency began staging monthly air-raid drills in December as tensions mounted between the United States and North Korea.

On New Year’s Day North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned the U.S. that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is real and that he has a launch button on his desk at all times. President Trump responded in a Tweet, saying his nuclear button was “much bigger & more powerful.”

After Steve burned his troubles at the temple, JoAnn said, they spent the rest of the day lying on a beach, napping and watching the waves.


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