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HOUSTON — Julia Morales and her family had been in Hawaii for only one day when they were thrust into the middle of 38 minutes of state-wide chaos.
Having just arrived to Honolulu for a week-long vacation that would culminate with a cruise around the islands, Morales, the popular in-game TV reporter who provides updates during Astros games, broke away from her family for a few minutes to grab a smoothie across the street.
Never could she have imagined that innocuous quick trip would turn so terrifying.
“The manager of the smoothie shop came out and said, ‘This is not a drill,'” Morales recalled. “‘We’re closing down the restaurant. Everybody go home.’ It happened that fast.”
The situation Morales is referring to, of course, is the alert that blasted across every Hawaiian smart phone owner’s device last Saturday, causing state-wide panic: “BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
It turned out not to be a drill, nor was it an actual threat. It was a false alarm, an apparent wrong-button mishap committed by a lone state worker. Perhaps it’s somewhat amusing to look back at now, days later, when order has been restored and explanations as to what happened have been provided. But at the time, it wasn’t so funny for the locals or a myriad of vacationers.
“It was pure panic immediately,” Morales said. “I was thinking, ‘Well maybe this is a local thing.’ But the girl behind the counter [at the smoothie shop] is from there and she said, ‘We’ve never seen this before.'”
As the patrons were ushered out of the restaurant, the smoothie shop employee said to Morales, “Do you want your smoothie? It might be your last.”
“That’s when I started to panic a little bit,” Morales said. “She was legitimately scared. Then I began to get scared.”
Morales, currently on a Hawaiian cruise with her husband, parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin, ran out of the smoothie shop and back to the group. She immediately took to Twitter to try to figure out what was happening. Surely, she figured, the government would put out a tweet with more information that would hopefully calm the uncertainly.
But minutes went by and she couldn’t find any information. So, she began tweeting, hoping someone would see it and reassure her that it was a false alarm.
“That was really why I started to tweet about it,” Morales said. “I was hoping someone would look into it.”
Finally, the tweet from the Hawaiian Emergency Management account landed: “false alarm.”
“We were finally all able to breathe a little bit,” Morales said.
The scare was over, but the effects from the ordeal lingered a while. Those agonizing minutes of confusion, and the adrenaline rush they caused, took their toll.
“I actually felt like I got sick,” Morales said. “You just have no idea what to do, where to go, and what a shelter means, when you’re on vacation in Hawaii. And then it was just the panic around me. The girl at the smoothie place was the first one, but then it just seemed like it was everyone. All these younger kids were crying. Our bartender at the restaurant where we got breakfast — she was just a mess the entire time.”
Morales left for this vacation hoping it would be an unforgettable experience, but clearly, this is not what she had in mind.
“Thank God it was a false alarm,” Morales said. “But at the same time, you want to know why this happened. That was a pretty horrifying 20-30 minutes.”