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EC native recalls Hawaii false alert

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The alert message sent out to residents of Hawaii Saturday morning is seen in this screen capture from Sheena Bean's cell phone that she posted to her Facebook page. Bean's comment about about the false alert can been seen in text above the message.

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"Surreal" is how one Elizabeth City native now living in Hawaii described her family's reaction to last weekend’s false inbound ballistic missile alert.

Sheena Bean lives with her husband Austin and their three children on the western Hawaiian island of Kauai. On Saturday morning, she was among the many Hawaiian residents who received a text alert on their mobile phones warning of an inbound ballistic missile. News reports of North Korea working hard to build its nuclear missile capabilities, and the rogue nation's threats to strike the United States, gave the alert deadly credibility.

In a phone interview on Monday, Bean said she was still in bed when her phone began buzzing with the alert shortly after 8 a.m.

"Emergency Alert: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii," the message stated in all capital letters. "Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

Bean, 33, said she sprung from her bed and dashed to the living room where her children were watching TV.

"Where's your father?" she said she asked them.

"Outside," she said they replied.

"It felt like 30 minutes but only took two to three minutes to find him," she said of her search for her husband.

After showing him the message they went inside, got the children and gathered in a small storage room that had four concrete walls. They put the children under a table and turned on a hand-crank radio.

"It was pretty surreal," Bean said of the situation.

With her family together Bean no longer felt as frightened as she initially had.

"Honestly, I wasn't afraid. There wasn't anything you could do," she said, of the threat of an inbound potentially nuclear armed ballistic missile. "I'm ready to meet our maker when that time comes."

The destruction brought by a nuclear weapon offers humans limited survival options: vaporization or radiation sickness.

"All I could do is pray and trust God," Bean said.

It wasn't until after the family had gathered in the storage room that she told the children what was happening.

"I told them what I knew," Bean said.

"No matter what happens, we'll be together," she said she assured her kids.

After waiting about 10 minutes the family heard a radio report that the initial missile attack report might be a mistake. That report was confirmed later with a message from U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Bean said.

According to Bean, Kauai is about 70 miles from the more populated island of Oahu, which is home to several U.S. military and Coast Guard bases. Bean moved to Elizabeth City when she was 9 years old, as her parents were in the Coast Guard and stationed at the Elizabeth City base. She attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where she met her husband. They moved back to Elizabeth City after he was assigned to the local base, and then to Oahu for a few years, before returning to Elizabeth City for another tour.

When her husband got out of the Coast Guard, the family moved back to Hawaii, this time locating to Kauai. Her youngest two children — 5-year-old daughter Avenlea, and 7-year-old son Banyan — were born in Elizabeth City. Their oldest son, Noakea, is 10 years old.

Bean said that, thankfully, Saturday's episode happened over the weekend, when all of her family was together at home. If it had happened on a weekday, her family likely would have been split between home, work and school.

"We were so fortunate we were here together," she said.

While the alert proved to be a mistake, Bean said her family won't take future alerts less seriously. If anything, the event was a teaching moment for Hawaiian emergency response officials.

"I think it was good that it happened because it exposed holes in the system that need to be addressed," she said.

Bean writes extensively about the experience on her Facebook page, facebook.com/sheenamariebean.

Another Albemarle-area native now living in Hawaii, but on the island of Oahu, is Deanna Adams. In an email, Adams said she grew up in Pea Ridge in nearby Washington County. Her husband is retired from the U.S. Air Force and now works at the Pearl Harbor Shipyard. The couple have four children: ages 8, 6, 4 and 1. On her Facebook page, Adams writes in detail of her family's experience during the false missile alert.

"It did not seem or feel real. You scramble to get your kids to a place with no windows and mind numbingly gather things that the experts claim are essential for survival," Adams writes. "You send a few messages letting people close to you know you love them. Doing this all with the helpless realization that none of the scrambling and gathering will do a damn bit of good if there is a direct hit, but you continue on anyway because...Well ... What if?"

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