Hawaii pre­pares for nu­clear at­tack

As N. Korean threat grows, ef­fort to get ready ac­cel­er­ates

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Jaweed Kaleem Los An­ge­les Times jaweed.kaleem@la­times.com

HONOLULU — For decades, the wail of the nu­clear bomb warn­ing siren was ubiq­ui­tous in U.S. ci­ties. Public ser­vice com­mer­cials drilled the “duck and cover” mantra into the minds of Amer­i­cans, and the pos­si­bil­ity of a Soviet at­tack was al­ways around the cor­ner.

But after the Cold War, most places aban­doned their sirens. Fears of ter­ror­ism grew more ur­gent and, for many younger Amer­i­cans, be­ing on no­tice for nu­clear war be­came a relic of the past.

That’s no longer the case in Hawaii.

Amid in­creas­ing North Korean threats against the U.S., Hawaii has launched the most ag­gres­sive ef­fort in the coun­try to pre­pare for at­tack. TV com­mer­cials warn the state’s 1.4 mil­lion res­i­dents to “get in­side, stay in­side” if a bomb drops.

State of­fi­cials are hold­ing on­line fo­rums and fly­ing be­tween is­lands for town halls to field ques­tions from res­i­dents.

On Dec. 1, the nu­clear at­tack warn­ing siren will be heard in the state for the first time in more than three decades.

A North Korean bomb is “a ma­jor, ma­jor con­cern,” Vern Miyagi, the ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, said re­cently dur­ing a sem­i­nar he held for res­i­dents in a packed meet­ing room at the state’s Depart­ment of De­fense of­fices in Honolulu.

He painted a stark pic­ture of what emer­gency of­fi­cials ex­pect if a nu­clear mis­sile was to reach Oahu.

“We are talk­ing about 50,000 to 120,000 trauma and burn causal­i­ties to­gether with nearly 18,000 fa­tal­i­ties,” said Miyagi, the state’s chief ex­pert on nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and the North Korean threat.

The ex­pected tar­get: Pearl Har­bor.

More ac­cus­tomed to ed­u­cat­ing res­i­dents about hur­ri­canes and tsunamis than atomic and hy­dro­gen bombs, Miyagi dis­played slides il­lus­trat­ing po­ten­tial im­pact to the is­land from a 100-kilo­ton nu­clear bomb det­o­nated 1,000 feet above Honolulu. The ex­plo­sion would hit an area about 8 miles in di­am­e­ter, he said.

Ninety per­cent of peo­ple would sur­vive the di­rect im­pact but could be hit by nu­clear fall­out and would have to nav­i­gate a crip­pled is­land.

“We an­tic­i­pate se­vere dam­age to Daniel K. Inouye In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Hickam Air Force Base and Honolulu Har­bor and Pearl Har­bor. There will be wide­spread struc­tural fires and build­ing col­lapses. There will be dam­age to hos­pi­tals and gov­ern­ment build­ings,” Miyagi said.

He left open the pos­si­bil­ity that other is­lands could be hit.

Hawaii has avoided North Korea’s crosshairs in re­cent months, though the na­tion has made threats against the state over the years. Con­cerns grew in 2009, when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said the late Kim Jong Il could send a mis­sile to­ward Hawaii, and the U.S. mil­i­tary in­creased prepa­ra­tions in Honolulu.

But fears have fur­ther in­creased amid a tense stand­off be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The Pen­tagon has re­cently fo­cused on Guam, a U.S. ter­ri­tory much closer to North Korea that Kim has threat­ened.

The hur­dles for North Korea are high. It’s not clear that the reclu­sive coun­try has the tech­nol­ogy yet to get a bomb to Hawaii.

With around 4,000 miles be­tween Py­ongyang and Honolulu, the is­lands are a dif­fi­cult tar­get. In ad­di­tion, Pa­cific Com­mand, the U.S. mil­i­tary’s head­quar­ters for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, ran tests over the sum­mer and says it is ready to in­ter­cept an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

“Any at­tack against us is sui­cide,” Miyagi said, be­cause U.S. re­tal­i­a­tion against North Korea would be far greater.

Still, prepa­ra­tions are in full swing in Honolulu and else­where in the state. The new 50-sec­ond warn­ing siren will fol­low a tsunami alert sys­tem that is tested monthly. State of­fi­cials are telling res­i­dents to gather enough food to be able to re­main in­doors for as lit­tle as a few hours and as long as two weeks if a bomb hits.

“Right now we con­sider the threat to be very un­likely. But it doesn’t mat­ter,” said Lt. Col. Charles An­thony, a spokesman for the Hawaii state Depart­ment of De­fense. “If North Korea uses an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, from launch to im­pact in Hawaii is ap­prox­i­mately 20 min­utes.”

An­thony said the state could give res­i­dents a 12-15 minute warn­ing, ren­der­ing old fall­out shel­ters mostly use­less be­cause they are too far away.

At the re­cent in­for­ma­tion ses­sion in Honolulu, the 40 peo­ple who showed up were ea­ger to find out more about the prospect of nu­clear de­struc­tion, and how they could help their fam­i­lies and neigh­bors.

Joe Brown, a 61-year-old Honolulu res­i­dent who lives close to Pearl Har­bor, asked if the state’s alert sys­tem of text and ra­dio mes­sages in ad­di­tion to the sirens would jam cell­phone and broad­cast tow­ers.

The an­swer: pos­si­bly, though broad­cast sta­tions on other is­lands could prob­a­bly still trans­mit mes­sages.

“I be­lieve the risk is very low. How­ever, we need to know what will hap­pen,” Brown said.

“We have five-gal­lon wa­ter con­tain­ers at home and dried foods; we’re some­what pre­pared and try to al­ways be more pre­pared for dis­as­ter,” he said. “But, you know, with the pres­i­dent and what he tweets and says, we do get a lit­tle more con­cerned.”

Lour­des Scheib­ert, a 66year-old who lives near down­town Honolulu, said she first be­gan ready­ing her home for an at­tack after ten­sions rose dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

She has thick plas­tic sheets to cover her win­dows and had loaded up on masks to fil­ter the air. A vet­eran of three hur­ri­canes, she owns a prepack­aged bucket with a 30-day sup­ply of dried food for her fam­ily of five.

“You can’t de­pend on the gov­ern­ment to help you. If you want to help your­self, you need to take care of your­self and your neigh­bors,” Scheib­ert said.

AP

An in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile launched from North Korea could make im­pact in Hawaii in as few as 20 min­utes.

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