Fear. Panic. And tears. For 38 minutes, Hawaii thought it was under attack

WATCH: Gov. David Ige, on what triggered ballistic missile false alarm
Published: Jan. 13, 2018 at 2:12 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2018 at 6:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - People huddled in their bathtubs. They ran into businesses or rushed into basements. They got into storm drains.

For nearly 40 minutes on Saturday, Hawaii's 1.4 million residents thought they were under ballistic missile attack — and they did everything they could to try to get to safety.

At 8:07 a.m., this alert went out to all Hawaii cell phones: "Missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter."

It took city and military officials about 15 minutes to confirm the message was sent in error.

And it wasn't until 8:43 a.m. that an all clear message was sent to Hawaii phones, 38 minutes after the first message sounded.

In that time, many sought any shelter that they could find while others called loved ones, crying — and fearing it might be the last time they spoke.

"People were running ... they were all desperate," said Waikiki resident Vinicius Pereira.

Adnan Mesiwala, a visitor, said he and his family was on the 36th floor of a hotel when they got the alert.

"We were actually terrified, and we didn't know what to do," he said. "We were kind of frantic. We put the baby in the bathroom and didn't know what else to do. My wife was in tears."

He added, "With the political climate that we are in today, there needs to be not only accountability but there has to be people thinking forward in terms of how their action will cause a response."

At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, panicked students ran across the campus, looking for any cover they could find.

One video on social media showed an adult putting children into a storm drain; other social media images showed residents huddling in bathtubs.

"When we got the alert, we were obviously very scared," said Heather Dygert, who was at home with her husband and two young girls when the alert went out. "We immediately got our emergency supplies and came into the bathroom. Water, a lantern, first aid kit, food and a radio and just kept our phones on and waited to see what happened."

She added that the family remained in the bathroom until the all clear was released.

Robbyn Levinthal, of Kailua, said 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," Levinthal said.

At Aloha Gymnastics Fest, alarms started going off in a crowd of a few hundred people.

"People just started scurrying around trying to get in to back rooms," said one attendee. "I was with my two little girls who are eight and 10 and kids were crying and no body really knew what to do."

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

"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.

After the panic wore off, there was anger — and a startling realization of how vulnerable Hawaii is.

"Everyone in America needs to understand what the people of Hawaii just went through because they would be angry — like I am — that we have known about this threat continuing to build for years, but the leaders in this country have failed us," U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said.

"This is about peace, a matter of life and death for the people of Hawaii and this country," she added.

This story will be updated. 

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