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'We huddled in the bathtub': How those in Hawaii reacted to missile threat

by Chelsea Bailey /

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Ben DuPree spent the morning of his daughter's second birthday cowering with his family in a bathtub in Kailua, Hawaii, fearing an incoming missile strike from North Korea.

Like many others in Hawaii, DuPree said he panicked Saturday morning when he received an alert on his phone warning of an impending missile attack.

"I got the alert on [my wife's] phone at which point I yanked her out of the shower and we went to huddle in the bathtub," said DuPree, a Portland, Oregon, resident who was visiting family in Oahu.

The family remained crouched in the tub for nearly 20 minutes, combing social media for updates. It wasn't until he saw a tweet from Hawaii's Emergency Management system that DuPree said he felt it was safe to leave the bathroom.

Similar scenes of panic and worry played out across Hawaii Saturday as many residents and visitors to the islands tried to determine if the missile threat was genuine. Officials later said the alert was mistakenly sent because of human error.

Related: 'Ballistic missile threat' warning in Hawaii a false alarm

Panicked posts from residents on the islands flooded Twitter and worried relatives on the mainland, all desperate to know if the alert was real.

"Not sure what to do. Sirens are going off," tweeted Canadian Olympic cyclist Emily Batty, who said she received the alert minutes into her morning bike ride.

Jonathan Dworkin, an infectious disease doctor who lives in Honolulu, tweeted that he and his family were taking shelter in his basement.

Later, in a message on Twitter, Dworkin told NBC News he was initially confused by the alerts because he only received the warning on one of his phones. Although his neighborhood was calm and he couldn't hear any sirens, Dworkin said he and his family decided to remain in their shelter, where his 9-year-old peppered him with questions and his 4-year-old remained calm.

Related: What should you do in case of nuclear attack? 'Don't run. Get inside'

“The first confirmed ‘all clear’ we saw was actually a Twitter message from Tulsi Gabbard,” he said. “Then 26 minutes ago we got another phone alert [from the government] canceling.”

Dworkin said despite Hawaii’s recent drills intended to prepare residents for an attack, he did not feel like he knew how to react.

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“I am not sure how much I can conclude about statewide preparedness from this,” he said. “But as a dry run, not very reassuring.”

DuPree said Saturday's incident underscored the need for a diplomatic political solution to the escalating tensions with North Korea.

“When the leader of North Korea, and when President Trump trade messages and tweets about the size of their nuclear buttons, that might feel very distant to them, but it’s very real to people living in harms way," he said.

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