Kiwis in Hawaii have described the terrifying moment residents received an alert on their phones warning of a ballistic missile threat that was accidentally sent out by Civil Defense.

Scores of confused residents tweeted screenshots of the warnings after receiving them shortly after 8am local time.

The message, which was written all in block capitals, read: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.

"SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL".

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The alert set off panic across the American state, with people evacuating to basements and many fearing they were about to die.

Havelock North woman Dee Whitby told how there were people in tears, and how she texted her children to say she loved them.

Whitby, who has been at Hilo for an orchid conference, said guests were asked to stay in their room for around 40 minutes.

"There were people crying in the corridors. We stayed calm but texted we love you messages to our children just in case."

At the Waikiki hotel where she has been staying with her girlfriend and her family, Natalie Kane made her way down to the lobby after getting the alarm.

She was told that, if it was real, they would have to take cover, although there was nowhere to find it, so she should return to her hotel room and stay away from the windows.

There were children crying, adults "freaking out", and families running back from the beach to find their loved ones.

Sixteen-year-old Lukas Halikias took this picture from the balcony of his hotel amid the panic.
Sixteen-year-old Lukas Halikias took this picture from the balcony of his hotel amid the panic. "Everyone from the other hotel were on balconies wondering what their next steps would be. People were lost as confused of what to do in the situation." Photo / Supplied

"One man was in the bath tub with his daughter and family praying."

But one person in Waikiki who contacted the Herald reported there was no panic, "just very mild concern mostly about getting shut out of the breakfast joints".

Another Kiwi in Hawaii, Ian Haigh, described the confusion on the Big Island.

"We went outside to get assistance to find the staff going home and no one knew what to do.

"We went to the office and were told to stay inside everyone thought it was for real. We turned on the TV but here was no message or anything.

"None of the sirens went off, it was only a phone alert."

It wasn't until they Googled it that we saw it was a mistake.

"We recieved a message 38 minutes later saying it was a mistake."

Greg and Darlene Lee had just landed in Honolulu aboard Air New Zealand flight NZ10 and were waiting for customs when the alert came from.

"Welcome to Hawaii," they joked.

But there was no panic in the airport, they said, mainly because no one knew if the alert was real or not.

Chris Whitby, pictured at Pearl Harbour, and wife Dee, of Havelock North, managed to stay calm during the ordeal. Photo / Supplied
Chris Whitby, pictured at Pearl Harbour, and wife Dee, of Havelock North, managed to stay calm during the ordeal. Photo / Supplied

Kiwi Dale Matravers had just stepped off the bus at the Waikele Premium Outlets with his wife and two children.

"[I] was talking with a local about the best beaches to visit and then all our phones brought up the alert.

"The local's face dropped, he apologised and said "I've got to go, good luck" and ran.

His family sought shelter at a local Starbucks.

Sixteen-year-old Lukas Halikias, who woke up to the sound of sirens, told the Herald it was "one of the scariest moments of my life".

He turned on the TV to see an alert on every channel.

"It was the stuff you only see on movies and the news back home. But this time I felt I was living it. Thank God it's over."

Kiwi Mike Maloney, holidaying with his teenaged sons, was by the pool at the Hilton when he received the alert.

"I raced upstairs and got the boys out of bed and down to the lobby. The kids were absolutely terrified.

"They want to come home straight away."

Kiwi Connie Huljich has been staying in Hawaii with 17 family members.

When the alert came, her son told her he'd brought seven grandchildren down to the basement of the hotel they were staying at.

"Four of our grand daughters aged, between 6 and 13, were crying and very scared," Huljich said.

"All of us were given water by hotel staff and there were adults in tears and on their phones to loved ones. Thank God this was a false alert."

Another Kiwi family visiting Hawaii were also left shaken.

"My sister, Grace, was the first to realise what was going on and came running through the house screaming at us to "get out of bed"," Alice Steele said.

"We were terrified and unsure what was happening. There was nothing on the local news or on the internet about the missile," Steele said.

Kiwi Jason Bell is holidaying in Hawaii with his wife - she got the alert on her phone, but he didn't. Photo / Supplied
Kiwi Jason Bell is holidaying in Hawaii with his wife - she got the alert on her phone, but he didn't. Photo / Supplied

"It was a terrifying experience for our whole family, including our elderly grandparents."

Takapuna teenager Emma Bullock, who is on holiday in Hawaii with her family of five, said she believed she would not live to see her 18th birthday tomorrow when the alert went out.

"I felt sick and woke up all the family before rushing and packing my bags. Outside, there were locals just going for walks - little did they know the imminent danger of a missile.

"Twitter eased our worries before a long waited 40 minutes when the official alert said it was a 'false alarm' . I turn 18 tomorrow and really thought I wasn't going to make it! Hopefully the civil defence can get their alerts right next time.

Kiwi Jason Bell is holidaying in Hawaii with his wife.

She got the alert on her phone, but he didn't.

"Everyone at the hotel we were staying at were very confused, tried to phone reception to ask them what was going on but couldn't get through."

"We only found out it was sent by mistake through reading comments on Twitter from some of the news agencies, it took 30 minutes for a further alert from the authorities officially saying it was a mistake."

Wellington woman Jane Woodrow, in Ohau, woke up to her husband's phone "making a lot of noise" - then they read the message.

"I have to say that in that moment you do stop and think what do I do.

"There are no purpose built shelters over here and it was a scramble to find any news on this."

All news channels were operating as normal, and local sirens, which had only been tested recently, were silent.

"My husband filled up the bath tub and then along with our daughter we thought about what to do.

"There is unfortunately nothing that you can do under these circumstances so we were trying to gain further information."

A friend texted them 15 minutes later to say a contact at a miltary base had told her it appeared to be a false alarm.

"Possibly not the best end to our vacation here."

Kaye Bromley from Wellington told the Herald she woke up when her phone started humming.

"It was the emergency warning saying missile threat evacuate and not a drill.

"I grabbed passports and money and then my husband came in from the gym saying they had been told to evacuate. We grabbed the kids and followed staff instructions to shelter in the basement of the hotel.

"All good. Bit surreal. But I didn't observe any panic. Everyone on social media trying to find out what was going on. Only down there about 10 minutes and given all clear."

Calls from frightened Hawaiian residents inundated Civil Defence immediately asking for more information or advice.

People who say they got through to the office were then told it was a mistake.

One woman called 911 in panic and said she was told by the operator that staff were performing a drill when "someone pushed the wrong buttons".

"Called 911...Operator said it's a drill of Civil Defense Emergency System but someone pushed the wrong buttons..

"No missile is headed toward the State of Hawaii REPEAT....NO MISSILE IS HEADED TOWARD THE STATE OF HAWAII."

Petra Kostek had been honeymooning with her husband for the past week and were due to fly out from Trump International Hotel Waikiki.

"We were just packing this morning when our phones started ringing and showing ALERT."

The Matravers family (from left) Jade, Ryan, Dale and Shirley. Photo / Supplied
The Matravers family (from left) Jade, Ryan, Dale and Shirley. Photo / Supplied

Her husband went down to the hotel lobby to see what was happening and what to do, and found many other stressed guests there.

They were told to wait as the hotel couldn't tell if the alert was false.

"It was [a] horrible 20 minutes. Not knowing what is going on, where to go or what to do. We just kept packing and waited."

"In these 20 to 30 minutes people were confused and you can tell they were scared, wanting to leave immediately.

"People on phones crying, desperately running around and trying to find out what to do, people with kids saying they are going towards the mountains and that we should go far away from people and city too.

"Hopefully this is over now and we will make save back home - so happy to live in New Zealand, our beautiful safe country."

Aucklander Dana Holbrook who is holidaying in Kauai told the Herald the incident was very scary.

"Terrifying especially when radio said missile headed to Kauai!"

Emily Moore, of Auckland, said on Facebook it was the "scariest moment of my life. That was not fun, everyone was in so much despair."

Anne Stokes, who studied at Wellington's Victoria University, said on Facebook her family was "all good".

"The kids did get a fright … hotel management were great in explaining the situation."

Another Kiwi holidaymaker, who asked not to be named, described the moment they received the alerts.

"We received the alerts this morning, this felt very real and was very very scary, we grabbed our passports and went to see what we had to do and were we could get shelter, the Hilton Grand Islander was unorganised and was not able to help us or give us any advice this was very scary people were very afraid there didn't appear to be any plan for tourists.

"We were hearing people around us say alarms we're going off and that the airport was being evacuated."

It was another 30 minutes before she heard the alert was sent in error.

"Now we are aware that it was a false alarm we a very relieved this is not real and that it was just a real big mistake."

Shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday, several alarmed Hawaii residents began posting screenshots of alerts they had received reading: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted at 8.20am local time that there was no missile threat to the state.

The US Navy also confirmed in an email the emergency alerts had been sent in error.

"USPACOM has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii," U.S. Navy Commander Dave Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command, said in an email. "Earlier message was sent in error. State of Hawaii will send out a correction message as soon as possible."

At 8.45am local time, an additional alert was sent to Hawaii residents advising them that the first warning had been a false alarm.

"There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii," the follow-up alert read, according to screenshots of the message. "Repeat. False Alarm."

Tulsi Gabbard, the Dem. Rep. for Hawaii, urgently tried to calm the hysteria.

"HAWAII - THIS IS A FALSE ALARM. THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE TO HAWAII. I HAVE CONFIRMED WITH OFFICIALS THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE," she wrote.

Less than an hour after the mistake, lawmakers said they were determined to get to the bottom of how such a colossal error was made.

It is unclear how or why the initial alert was sent out and how many people received it, the Washington Post reported.

What was clear was that the first message caused panic.

On CNN, Gabbard said she received the alert, then called Hawaii officials and confirmed it was "an inadvertent message that was sent out".

"You can only imagine what kicked in," Gabbard told CNN.

"This is a real threat facing Hawaii, so people got this message on their phones and they thought, 15 minutes, we have 15 minutes before me and my family could be dead."

Less than two months ago, Hawaii reinstated its Cold War-era nuclear warning sirens amid growing fears of an attack by North Korea. The tests were scheduled to be conducted on the first business day of every month for the foreseeable future.

The tests were an audible example of the growing strife with North Korea, which has spooked other communities in the still-hypothetical line of fire.

Guam distributed a pamphlet on nuclear attack preparedness that encouraged people to avoid using conditioner, "as it will bind the toxins to your hair."

A 16-page bulletin released by emergency management authorities in California warned people to beware of radioactive pets.

- Additional reporting: Daily Mail, Washington Post