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Hawaii attack siren blares in 1st test since Cold War

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(AP Photo/Caleb Jones) (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
© (AP Photo/Caleb Jones) © (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
© (AP Photo/Caleb Jones) © (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
HONOLULU (AP) -

Hawaii conducted its first test of a siren to warn the public of a possible nuclear attack from North Korea.
  
Officials say the state is the first to test such a warning system since the end of the Cold War. The wailing siren sounded for a minute Friday after the usual testing of a system to alert people to natural disasters.
  
The move comes the same week North Korea fired a powerful nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile that some observers believe could reach the U.S. mainland.
  
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said the possibility of a strike is remote but that people have to be prepared.
  
Officials delayed testing by a month to ensure residents and visitors were informed. Some still expressed confusion this week about what they were supposed to do after hearing the attack siren.


A siren that frightened Lorraine Godoy as a child will wail once again in Hawaii, decades after the Cold War-era threat of nuclear attack subsided.

The state on Friday is dusting off the system intended to warn people of an impending nuclear strike just days after North Korea launched its most powerful missile yet. Godoy, 75, said the test will bring back vivid memories of air raid sirens from her childhood on the Big Island.

“It’s very scary. It’s loud. It’s frightening,” Godoy said. “I’m just glad I don’t have any children or grandchildren living here ... because it was very scary to hear as a child.”

The monthly test of Hawaii’s siren warning system for natural disasters will include a new tone. The wailing sound of the attack warning will come after the long, steady siren for tsunamis and other events that people in Hawaii have grown accustomed to.

“We believe that it is imperative that we be prepared for every disaster, and in today’s world, that includes a nuclear attack,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said, adding that the possibility of a strike is remote.

Ige said the new test will ensure the public knows what they should do in case of an imminent attack. If a missile is launched, residents and tourists would have less than 20 minutes to take shelter, officials said.

“There needs to be different action taken should there be a nuclear attack than what is expected for a hurricane or tsunami,” the governor said this week.

Vern Miyagi, administrator for Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said the state delayed the test for a month to let people know it would be happening. Hawaii turned to public service announcements on TV and radio, town hall meetings, information on agency websites and media stories.

“The public can handle it. They’re not going to panic,” Miyagi said.

The test comes the same week that North Korea fired a powerful nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile it calls the Hwasong-15, leading analysts to conclude the nation has made a jump in its missile capability. The weapon would have a range of more than 8,100 miles (13,000 kilometers), easily reaching the U.S. mainland.

Hawaii is the closest state to North Korea, and its large military presence could make it more of a target. The island of Oahu is home to the U.S. Pacific Command, the military’s headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region. It also hosts dozens of Navy ships at Pearl Harbor and is a key base for the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps.

Miyagi has previously said a nuclear strike on Hawaii would result in thousands of deaths, thermal radiation, severe damage to critical infrastructure, widespread fires and other chaos.

Hawaii lawmakers have been urging emergency management officials to update Cold War-era plans for coping with a nuclear attack.

“I think it’s responsible to do this,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said of the tests, though adding the chances of an attack are slim.

The tests will continue on the first day of every month. If the siren sounds because an attack is imminent, residents and tourists should get inside and stay tuned for further instructions, officials said.

Hawaii no longer has any nuclear shelters. When the Cold War ended, funding for maintaining them ran out as the threat of attack ended, emergency officials said.

Godoy said the tests are a “reminder that this is not a safe world anymore. Even here, in Hawaii, it’s not safe.”

Tourism officials disagree, saying travelers “should not be alarmed by the testing.”

“Its implementation is consistent with the state’s longstanding policy to be prepared and informing the public well in advance of any potential threat to Hawaii’s well-being,” George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said in a statement.

Some residents and visitors expressed confusion.

“I’m not sure then what we’re supposed to do after the siren happens,” Justine Espiritu of Honolulu. “That would be useful information. Am I supposed to like find a bomb shelter? Am I supposed to go to the mountains? Should I jump in the ocean? I’m not very sure.”

Tourist Bruce Jelsema of Grand Rapids, Michigan, also didn’t know what to do.

“Not living in Hawaii, I’m not familiar with the different sounds of the test so I would probably be confused as to how to respond,” he said.

Click here for more about the nuclear threat to Hawaii.

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