Southbridge native’s ‘jitters’ subside after false alarm

Nuckle counted down the moments in Hawaii

By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer

PUKALANI, HAWAII — Perry Nuckle remembers the old duck-and-cover drills in school. Little did he know that decades later, he would be reacting to an official alert from state officials that ballistic missiles were heading his way.

“As a child, I just felt that ducking under a desk was part of the curriculum, and although I harbored a tiny wince of fear at times, I always thought it would be all  right and nothing would happen,” the 72-year-old Nuckle recalled.

He added that tiny wince became a bit larger during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

“Later on in life, when John Kennedy set up a blockade to keep the Russians from Cuba, I was surfing on the West Coast and promptly flew home to be with my family,” Nuckle said. “That was a bit unnerving.”

Unnerving would be a good word to describe the anxiety and fear that washed over Hawaii last weekend. Due to an error during a shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, alerts were sent to cellular phones as well as television and radio stations that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii. Residents and tourists were instructed by Hawaiian guides to seek immediate shelter and informed the alert was not a drill. In the end, it wasn’t a drill, but rather a mistake that set off widespread panic in the Hawaiian islands. State officials revoked the alert 38 minutes after it had been issued.

Nuckle is a Southbridge native who, along with wife Diane, moved to Hawaii less than five years ago. They settled about 45 minutes from their son, Justin, who moved to Hawaii 13 years ago. The Citizen Chronicle shared the younger Nuckle’s story on Monday.

While his grandchildren were watching Saturday morning cartoons in Lahaina,  Perry Nuckle said his day started with a fresh cup of coffee while he played a few notes on his guitar, gazing “across the valley to the sunshine enriched Maalaea Harbor.”

It was then that his peaceful and tranquil morning changed gears drastically.

“Suddenly our cellphones are screaming at us that a missile is headed for the islands and we have 12 minutes until impact,” Nuckle said.

It was not the first time that an alert had come across, but in the past it was clearly a drill.

“We had received alert tests before, and the sirens would go off,” Nuckle said. “This alert announced that it was not a test, so one would believe people in charge know what they are doing. I thought it was real. The only questionable part was there were no sirens.”

Nuckle said he noticed that the local tsunami whistles, which double as a warning system, were silent. Either way, he realized that if this alert was legitimate, time was short.

“Twelve minutes to realize there is no place to go,” he said. “So, besides kissing your anger goodbye, what do you do?”

He responded by turning on the television in hopes of more information and details while shuttering out the rest of the outdoor world.

“We closed all the windows and doors and blinds, and turned on CNN,” he explained, stating it took about six minutes to close up the home.

Nuckle’s first thoughts turned to possible locations to seek shelter. The bathtub!

“We never did get into the bathtub because it has a window,” he explained. “Homes here have no cellars, and the only safe place was our pantry.”

The family pantry was the safest bet because it has no windows there and is in the middle of the house. Ultimately, however, “we never made it into there, either.”

As the Nuckles prayed, the clock ticked away.

“Zero minutes left and, of course, holding our breath,” Nuckle said, painting the scene as the anticipated moment of ballistic missiles reaching Hawaii raced forward. “Tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, nothing.”

Eventually, news broke on television that the alert was a mistake.

“When CNN announced that it was a false alarm, we felt confident that a very bad error was made,” Nuckle said.

Then they breathed a sigh of relief and nerves began to calm.

“At that point, most of our jitters were subsiding and normalcy started creeping back,” Nuckle said.

Ultimately, Nuckle has taken the scare in stride.

“I was not angry, just relieved and thankful,” he said. “I was mostly thankful that my grandchildren were now safe.”


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