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Alberta MLA in Hawaii says false missile alert was 'really, really frightening'

Last Updated Jan 13, 2018 at 7:40 pm EST

Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater, and high-rises are seen in Honolulu on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. A push alert that warned of an incoming ballistic missile to Hawaii and sent residents into a full-blown panic was a mistake, state emergency officials said. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

LAHAINA, Hawaii – An Alberta politician who is vacationing in Hawaii says the minutes she spent believing a missile attack was imminent may have been the most afraid she’s ever been.

Karen McPherson, who represents Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill in the provincial legislature, said she was waiting to participate in a conference call on Saturday morning when an alert appeared on her phone stating there was an “inbound missile threat” headed for Hawaii.

It told people to seek immediate shelter and that it wasn’t a drill.

“I didn’t know I could move that fast. I grabbed my keys and made sure I had my phone. I’m here with a friend of mine so I yelled at her to get out of bed and to grab her phone and that we had to go right away,” said McPherson, who is staying in a condominium in Lahaina on the western side of Maui.

“We headed downstairs— she was still in her pyjamas — and we got in the car and I headed toward the tsunami evacuation route, because that was the only thing I could think of to do in that moment.”

But everybody she saw was acting normally. People were walking their dogs or jogging. And there were no sirens.

McPherson said after driving about five miles she turned on the radio. There were no urgent announcements.

She started to think it was possibly a mistake or that maybe her phone had a virus. She and her friend drove back to the condo, checked social media and found an NBC feed saying it had been a false alarm.

Ten minutes later, she received an alert stating there was no missile. The earlier alert was an error, it said, and everything was OK.

“I don’t believe that I have ever felt that afraid in my whole life. That was really, really frightening,” McPherson said.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi told a news conference Saturday the error happened when someone hit the wrong button.

Hawaii reintroduced Cold War-era warning siren tests last month amid the potential threat of missiles from North Korea.

McPherson said during her moments of fear, she recalled feeling angry that political conditions in the world made the news plausible.

“It wouldn’t be that unusual. It would be unexpected,” she said.

McPherson said despite the scare, she’s not planning an early return to Canada.

“It’s 26 degrees here,” she laughed. “I was talking to some friends that are on the island, too. They were talking about having an end-of-the-world party tonight.”

—by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

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