Monday, February 5, 2018

Ballistic missiles, tsunamis and other Tropical Tales. . .

We arrived in Hawaii the day after its now-infamous missile warning was issued – a false alarm that reverberated around the world.

A few days after we arrived we missed the tsunami warning for the island of O’ahu. It had been real but issued during the night and withdrawn before we woke.

Last week we missed – again, by a day -- a high speed shoot-em-up freeway chase on O’ahu’s west side near our Ko Olina resort  in which the suspect was shooting at pursuing police and later held them at bay for 17 hours in the small town just north of us.

It seems that even a tropical island paradise has both 'wonders' and 'warts'.  Regulars here know I usually focus on the ‘wonders’ because I want to inspire you to pack up and head out on your own adventures or to entertain you armchair travelers. But sometimes the ‘warts’ are as interesting as the wonders and are worthy of focus . . . for example:

The Missile Alert

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The emergency alert showing on some cell phones in Hawaii
In case you’ve been off the planet or away from the news in recent weeks, here's the gist of what happened: On Saturday, Jan. 13th the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) issued the alert shown in the photo above. It appeared on some cell phones and the state’s warning systems.

(Intercontinental ballistic missiles are designed primarily to carry nuclear warheads so with the war of words going on between North Korea and the U.S. you can imagine the way the message was interpreted).

Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 headline in the Honolulu paper
Within two minutes officials knew the warning was sent in error - there was no missile -- yet it took 38 minutes to issue a corrected message. Now that might not sound like a very long time, but from the stories we’ve heard and read, it was for many an eternity and a horrifying one at that:

*families huddled together in interior closets and called loved ones elsewhere in the world to say goodbye. Then cell phone systems jammed and phones didn’t work.

*at least one man on the island of O’ahu had a heart attack,

* some hotels evacuated tourists, others had them shelter in place some issued emergency directives, others didn't.

* a local man told us he grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels and headed to his roof to watch it end – he knew there would be no place to safely shelter, he said.

* a long-married couple visiting the island told each other ‘it had been a great run’, made themselves MaiTais and went to the beach to sip them while waiting for the end.

Remember, many residents of the island of O’ahu are only a generation away from - and can still tell personal stories of -- the World War II Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. So alerts for any type of imminent attack are taken seriously.

The Missile’s Fallout

The day we arrived on O’ahu; the day after the false alarm, the investigations were already underway. The employee in charge of pushing that button had done so in error, and was horrified about it, it was reported. News stories over the days following said the employee was placed on a leave of absence and death threats were being received at the agency.  . .

Headline Honolulu newspaper Jan. 31, 2018
Two and a half weeks later, the missile's fallout continues. On Jan. 31st headlines were still in mega-point type face and more information was being released about the investigation’s findings and conclusions:

*The employee who sent the false alert had been a ‘source of concern’ for more than 10 years. And had at least two times before this incident had confused drills with real events and had been ‘counseled’.

* 'HI-EMA had not anticipated the possibility of issuing a false alert and wasn’t prepared to issue a correction” and officials also mistakenly believed  they had to consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency before  issuing an official notice of the alert being false.

* The Governor ‘was delayed in sending out social media notification because he forgot his Twitter password'.

* The employee was fired and the head of the agency resigned. (The employee has hired an attorney and been giving interviews to news media that counter some of the report conclusions.)

Then Came the Tsunami Alert. . .

Wind and rain often are part of an island visit
We first learned of the tsunami from an ex pat British friend back home in our Greek Mani who wrote a note saying, “Bloody Hell. . .now a tsunami?!”  I wrote back assuring him that the alert had been for the West Coast of the United States after an earthquake in the Pacific Ocean near Alaska. “No where near us,” I assured him.

Well, later in the day we learned that there had been an alert issued for our island as a second earthquake had occurred nearer Hawaii – several night owls here were up late enough to receive it on their cell phones.

Our resort  manager explained later that with a tsunami – unlike an incoming missile – there’s usually a four to six hour window before it hits so they were aware of the warning but opted to make sure it was going to stay valid  before rousting several thousand guests in the middle of the night. The alert was called off a few hours after being issued.

Ignorance is bliss, I’ve decided.

Shoot outs and other day-to-day realities

Beaches on O'ahu's west side
With a population estimate of 1.4 million people this island state ranks 13th in the US for population density.

The island of O’ahu (best known for its Honolulu and Waikiki Beach) has some 950,000 of the state’s residents. Crime shouldn’t be a surprise here but still it seems incongruous with the island’s beauty. We visitors find ourselves so enchanted with our surroundings we wonder how residents could possibly abuse this paradise with crime.

The shootout I referenced in the opening of this post took place on the Main Road on this end of the island, a few miles northwest of the resort. It involved a high speed chase with the fleeing suspect shooting at pursuing officers and ended with a 17-hour stand-off at a residence in the town of Waianae.. The alleged ‘shooter’ was reportedly under the influence of crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’ as it is called.  No one was injured and the suspect is being held on $3 million bail.
(Sounds more like an episode of Hawaii-5-0 than reality, doesn’t it?)

Junk card along one of the Waianae country roads
I’ve been working on a freelance travel article while we are here which has taken us to new territory on the island – beautiful places tucked away in the shadows of the Waianae Mountain range.  One of the most startling things about this new area was that locals are dumping cars along side the roadways.

We asked a local resident about the unsightly dumping and she said, “The Mayor came out and made them clean it up. They were all gone – they hauled them away but then they were all back again.”  'Really??', we asked ourselves. Sadly, that section of roadway looks worse than some third world countries we’ve visited. Warts, to be sure.

So . . .Warts or Wonders?

Lanikai Beach - windward side O'ahu
We’ve been asked a dozen times by people we’ve met this trip, “Why are you living in Greece?” but no one asks, “Why did you come to Hawaii?”   No one questions this tropical paradise as a destination. The parade of wide-bodies jets begin arriving early each morning from Asia and Australia and by early afternoon the parade is coming from the United States and Canada. The number of visitors here topped 9.4 million last year.

Ewa Beach area looking back at Honolulu and Diamond Head
Hawaii and our island of O’ahu haven't lost their magic despite bungled emergency alerts, irresponsible dumping, crime and other ‘warts’.

Sunset from our timeshare home at KoOlina - O'ahu
Bottom line is: no place is perfect – despite what the tourist organizations tell you.    And Hawaii’s welcome and its wonders continue to overshadow its warts. We are thankful the missile alert wasn’t real – what a shame it would be to destroy this tropical paradise . . .

That’s it for this week from the island of O’ahu. Our time in Hawaii has gone rapidly. Won’t be long before we are heading back to The Stone House on the Hill. Thanks for the time you spend with us and we wish you a safe and happy week until we are back together again.

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Best of Weekend


  1. I enjoyed reading about the actual happenings from people who lived through it rather than condensed through the "real" media. Glad there were no actual tragedies, and glad you're enjoying your time in Hawaii.

    1. It really has been front and center in Hawaii and it probably should be in the mainland as well. It really illustrates how unprepared we are for a nuclear attack.

  2. I like that you sort of touch on the idea that people overestimate the risks in places that are unfamiliar and underestimate them in more familiar places. People would be wrong to stop going to Hawaii because it is too dangerous, but it too has its risks!

    1. We do chuckle when people we meet in Hawaii ask us if it is safe in Greece! I wonder if they read or listen to the news at all when here.

  3. Thankfully the missile alert was false. I wish these people would just sit down and sort it out face to face instead of all this argie-bargie. It sounds like you had a few "near misses", just to make your trip interesting. II think I would be glad to be back to the stone house on the hill. Have you read "Driving Over Lemons"? They live in a stone house in Spain. Happy & safe travels!

    1. I did read that book several years ago and should probably re-read it as it would have even more meaning now.

    2. I'm reading his next one now - A Parrot in the Pepper Tree.

  4. I must admit this is my favourite part: "The Governor ‘was delayed in sending out social media notification because he forgot his Twitter password'." If you see the governor, please tell him I understand.
    I like that couple toasting one other and appreciating their time together!
    You're right, it is a shame such a beautiful place has such a high crime rate, but that now seems to be the way of the world. Although I'm a Canadian, I can't help thinking "We're not in Kansas any more, Toto!"
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

    1. I know. . .my first thought was, "How could he forget his Twitter password?" then I had to think long and hard about what mine is! :-)

  5. Nice post with some good points. We visited Hawaii a few years ago and loved it. Talking to the locals they talked about the curse of living in paradise. Two families sharing the same house is common and many people have two jobs. Not a one of them wanted to leave.

    I have a flight tracker app on my ipad and I've noticed that their is virtual parade of airplanes going to and from Hawaii from west and the east. It is pretty amazing. People keep piling in to visit. I hope to do so again myself.

    1. They have also had headlines about tourism's rise here and the inability of the islands to handle much more increase. Locals are saying that with renting out homes and Air B and B, neighborhoods are changing. . .and not necessarily for the better.

  6. Interesting post, Jackie. Must have been so unsettling to have been on the island when the alerts were called. You are right. There is no such thing as a perfect place. Every place on the planet comes with its own unique challenges.

    1. So true but it always adds to the sense of place doesn't it??

  7. That would have been SO scary. And ever since the news on 9/11, nothing seems impossible to imagine.
    Be safe and happy!
    Thanks for linking up at

    1. Think you hit the nail on the head: we aren't as invincible as we might want to believe we are. . .

  8. Quite a week in Hawaii. It's fascinating how minor issues stack up: "The Governor ‘was delayed in sending out social media notification because he forgot his Twitter password'." Funny, not funny, totally relatable.

  9. So true - nowhere is perfect. This pressing the wrong button thing has had awful consequences. I can imagine how I would have affected me. Preparing to die; trying to contact family. Horrific. Traumatising. Hawaii certainly is beautiful - as is Greece. Thanks for connecting.

  10. I'm surprised people ask you if it's safe in Greece - Greece certainly has a few of its own "warts" but I've never thought of safety as one of them.

  11. We spent Christmas in Kauai - I think it was our 4th Christmas and 6th visit there. We haven't been back to Oahu since we discovered Kauai.

  12. Good heavens! So much drama and craziness! I'm so glad you're safe and sound, AND that you found beauty in the midst of the mayhem. XO

  13. We are so covered up in drama and faux news...never know what to believe any more. :(
    Our son and DIL just got home from a 10 day trip, cruising to Hawaii for their 25th anniversary. they had an absolute BLAST and the photos they took are so beautiful.

  14. It's all just beyond belief. KYRIE ELEISON!!!

  15. "Ignorance is bliss" sums up the missile alert and tsunami warning perfectly. I try to imagine how I would respond in the face of such disaster warnings and like to think I'd be like the couple who mixed up some MaiTais and headed for the beach. As you say, even paradise has a few hidden warts but that's what keeps life interesting, right?


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