It was 7:58am and I just put the kettle on to make myself a cup of tea. My husband was already on the balcony, listening to Fairuz as he normally does every morning when he drinks his coffee. I was just about to join him when my 8-year-old son walked outside and handed me the phone.
“Mom, your alarm is going off, something about an emergency alert.”
When I read the Hawaii missile alert message at 8:08am, I literally gasped for air.
With no words, I handed the phone to my husband and told my son to go downstairs, wake up his sister, grab their blankets and go in the closet in my room. As I descended the stairs, I felt an overwhelming ache in my heart so deep the last time I felt it was when I lost my stillborn son, 11 years ago.
The feeling was so debilitating I literally froze on the stairwell for a few seconds. “We have 15 minutes to find shelter, we have 15 minutes to live”, was all I kept hearing in my head until my pet chihuahua licked my toe and eventually woke me up from my trance.
IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?
I ran downstairs, filled the tub with water and checked on the kids.
“Mom, is this really happening?” asks my 10-year-old daughter?
“Yes, sweety, it is.”
Her eyes became wide, she stuck her thumb in her mouth and sunk her head into her pillow. My son covered his head with his blanket and wept.
You see, two months ago when our world leaders were playing “hot potato” with the threat of nuclear weapons, Hawaii was being told to prepare for a nuclear attack. So while on the beach, I told my children if they were to hear a very loud siren, they would need to get out of the water as quickly as possible, look for the nearest shelter (with 4 walls and a roof) and run for cover. We practiced running out of the water a few times before they said: “ok, we got it.” I had to tell them that mommy would not have the time to explain this to you when it goes off, you’ll only have 15 minutes to seek shelter before a very large explosion occurs.
“Mom, how come we don’t hear the sirens?”
I thought that was strange since we usually hear a wailing tone regularly every month as a test to warn residents that a hurricane or tsunami is coming.
But nothing today.
WHERE IS MY FAMILY?
As I tried to comfort them, all I could think about was my mom. Where is she? Where’s my step-dad? Thankfully, at that moment he called. My stepdad is a bus driver and got the message by text while driving in Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu. He pulled a bus full of passengers to the side of the road and asked them to find refuge in the nearby bathrooms at Haleiwa Beach Park all while showing them his cell phone message as they exited.
“Papa are you alright?!”
“Yes, I’m fine. I can’t find mom, please tell her I love her. I am at the beach with a bunch of scared passengers, we are seeking refuge in a bathroom. Love you, Wendy, gotta go!” and he hung up.
Upstairs, I could hear my husband on the phone with family from Michigan and Canada, saying goodbye and calling his mother who lives in Beirut.
“You survived war in Beirut to die like this?” is all she could say to her youngest son. Youssef and his family lived and survived The Lebanese Civil War which lasted from 1975 to 1990. He was just 5 years old. He’s seen death and destruction and having this happen all over again was surreal. All I heard was him say was “I love you” to his mom as he made his way downstairs to help me with the kids.
My phone was chiming every second as friends and family on group chats were trying to find out what was going on, where to seek shelter, and if we got the message. Some people got messages, some did not.
Everyone on the island went into panic mode.
I called my mom… no answer. Of course, it was 8:13 am on a Saturday morning. I called my sister-in-law who lives on the Windward side of Oahu and asked if she got the text. She said yes, but had nowhere to seek shelter. My brother was on Maui and her daughter was with my mom, who we could not reach. She was about to experience the end of her life without the people she loved. I told her I loved her and hung up the phone.
I AM NOT MENTALLY PREPARED FOR THIS
All this is happening while my husband is running frantically to the kitchen grabbing bananas, apples, and granola bars with our little dog in his hand. Thankfully, our master bedroom closet is large and we already keep our valuables in there such as our passports, cash, first aid kit and emergency backpack with rations for 2 weeks.
No doubt we were prepared physically…but not mentally.
Is this real? How many minutes do we have left?
We had friends with children playing soccer trying to find shelter in an open field. Friends on the beach doing their morning run, trying to find a shelter that’s not available. Family at the airport with no clue what’s going on. Friends at the grocery store on the floor crying between aisles.
It was utter chaos in Hawaii and we all knew there was nothing we could do for each other but say “goodbye.”
DEAR GOD, PLEASE HELP US
As we sat together, all 4 of us in the closet waiting for that sonic boom all I could do was cry internally…silently so I wouldn’t scare my children who were already beyond frightened. It wasn’t until my son said, “Mom, can we pray” that we all decided to bow our heads and listen.
I don’t want to die.
Please don’t let the missile hit us.
I am scared.
Pray for grandma and our family…
We all hugged each other and didn’t let go. We waited and accepted our fate.
15 minutes passed and no missile.
20 minutes passed, still no missile.
39 minutes later we received this message; it was a false alarm.
REALITY SETS IN
You can’t imagine the relief that overwhelms you after going through something like this. I told my children to go upstairs and have breakfast with their father as I literally balled my eyes out in the shower.
This happened 1 hour ago in #Hawaii. My husband and I grabbed our children and hid in the closet, hugging each other and trying to find the right words to say within 15 minutes before were all gone. 15 minutes passed and no missle. 25 minutes later we hear it’s a false alarm. You can’t imagine the fear and sadness that overcome me and my husband. My kids are no longer normal after this day. We are at the point we’re we just don’t feel safe in our own country, the USA with nuclear threats. Today we take back our lives. No more living in fear. Hug your loved ones tight today and be thankful you are alive. If anything, this alert was a wake up call for many. #hawaiian #hawaiikids
As ambulances and fire trucks passed our Honolulu condo I couldn’t help but wonder; if there really was a nuclear attack on the island today, would we have been the lucky ones? What would the future of our country be like if our beautiful Hawaiian paradise was suddenly gone?
Thankfully, I can live another day to ponder that question.
But, for how much longer?
Despite today’s panic, we love living in Hawaii. If you’re planning on visit, feel free to check out our resources; Looking for family-friendly things to do on Oahu or Big Island? Check out these articles:
- 5 Reasons to Plan Your Winter Family Vacation in Hawaii
- The Locals’ Guide to Exploring Oahu With Kids
- 5 of the Best Local Beaches on Oahu
- Oahu’s Top 10 Family-Friendly Breakfast Spots
- Top 10 Kid-Friendly Restaurants on Oahu
- 10 Must-Try Local Foods From Hawaii
- Top 5 Kid-Friendly Beaches in Hilo
- Top 10 Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Hilo, Hawaii
- Big Island’s Very Own Chocolate Factory
- Kid Foodie Fridays: Hawaii-Kine, Easy Malasadas