Hawaiian missile threat affected locals


This is the message Hawaiians and visitors received on their phones Saturday at 8:05 a.m.


The beauty of Hawaii was of no importance to Monica Castilleja-Livingston after the false alarm Saturday.

— Four lower valleyites, in Hawaii at the time a mistaken alert told them they were about to die, Saturday reacted the same initially and then started to view things differently.

Mary Van de Graaf, who was vacationing with her husband Bob, had no idea what to do for a good while.

But Paul Roy, who has military experience and worked at Hanford, started thinking logically.

Steve and Tammy Bangs of Toppenish and Dave and Chellee Bos of Granger were in two 38th floor condos. Their phones went off simultaneously.

“It was a very loud alert,” Tammy Bangs said.

They saw things from their windows that confirmed their doubts.

Monica Castilleja-Livingston, of Grandview was so upset by the experience that she is considering home-schooling her small children.

Van de Graaf is a Granger High graduate, formerly Mary Rasmussen. Roy lived in the Outlook area and graduated from Sunnyside.

The Van de Graaf’s own Bob’s Drive-In in Sunnyside and live in Yakima. Roy, the general manager of a real estate company, has lived on Kauai five years.

Van de Graaf was at urgent care for an ear problem when the alarm on her phone went off. As she read the wording, she was gripped by fright.

“Oh, hell yeah,” she said.

Nobody at urgent care knew what to do. Van de Graaf joined her friend Barb Deweese at a store, where Deweese had gone for a pop. No one there knew what to do.

“The girl at the store wondered if she should close and go home,” Van de Graaf said.

Van de Graaf saw a man crying while talking to his family on the phone. She saw a zip-line store owner wearing a helmet. She called her husband back at the hotel. He didn’t know what to do.

“I guess I’ll be back there (hotel) and wait (to die),” Van de Graaf thought at one point.

Van de Graaf said she relaxed immediately upon learning the alarm had been false. She admitted, however, she wouldn’t have known what to do if she’d gotten the same alert back here in the valley.

“We don’t have any drills in place,” she said.

During the moments they thought they might die, the Bangs-Bos group pictured themselves trapped in a stairway, like many of the victims of the Twin

Towers attack of 2001.

But they had doubts. They were in disbelief.

“We had a tough time believing It was real,” Bangs said. “My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘This can’t be real,’ The Boses were the same way.”

The two couples came to realize the 38th floor above Waikiki Beach was an advantage. They could see a calm ocean with people sailing and surfing and the U.S. Naval Base “completely quiet.”

Still, Bangs said, the two couples didn’t relax until they heard it was a false alarm.

Castilleja-Livingston has lived in Pearl City, about 10 minutes from Pearl Harbor, five months. Her Air Force husband is stationed there.

When her phone alarm went off, she looked at it and didn’t really know what was happening.

“I put the phone down,” she said.

When her husband, Jason, explained and said “This is not a drill,” she panicked.

“Oh my God,” she said. “We need water. We don’t have enough water to get through this.”

Then she realized water was not her biggest worry and started to sweat and shake.

“All I could think is we have five minutes,” she said.

It didn’t help that Jason was getting no information from the air base.

Castilleja-Livingston said she was scared for the 38 minutes it took for authorities to straighten this mess out.

“I was still on edge last night,” she said Tuesday.

Her kids were with her when it happened. What if they had been at school, she asked rhetorically.

“I’m really thinking about home-schooling,” she said.

It didn’t take Roy, over on Kauai, long to relax. He knew something about missiles and alerts, having served in the U.S. Army on a Nike base in Germany.

First of all, he noticed all of the other alarms did not go off. They go off so often, for one emergency or another that some people consider them a nuisance.

For that reason, Roy didn’t read the alert until six minutes had passed. He and his wife were sleeping and, when the phone off, she asked, “Who could be calling us at this time,” and went back to sleep.

Roy guessed this might be a flash-flood alert. He made himself a cup of coffee and then looked at his phone. It got his attention. But, soon, things weren’t adding up.

It seemed the missile should have hit by the time he realized what the alert was about. He didn’t wake his wife.

“If this is it,” he said to himself, “she’ll go quietly in her sleep.”

But Roy knew this wasn’t it. No matter where he turned on the TV or the Internet, nobody was talking about it.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has taken some heat for the mistaken alert. It took the agency 38 minutes to admit its mistake. Roy was philosophical about it.

“It’s better they issue the warning and be wrong than to not issue the warning and be wrong,” he said.


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