North Korea’s firing of a missile over northern Japan on Tuesday heightened concerns among citizens, triggering alerts in communities and prompting some to run for cover.
“The alert told me to evacuate, but I couldn’t think of any building in the town that could withstand missiles. I didn’t know where to go,” said Ichiro Kondo, a 38-year-old fisherman in the town of Erimo in Hokkaido, said to be in the direct path of the missile.
A 59-year-old elementary school teacher in nearby Aomori Prefecture said he heard an “eerie” howl over the community’s disaster radio network and switched on the television to find that the government had issued a warning.
He also felt he had nowhere to run, and in those tense moments he just shut the curtains and tried to stay away from the window as much as possible.
In Hokkaido, police received more than 90 emergency calls, some with questions about where to evacuate. Four people sought shelter at a disaster-mitigation center in the city of Muroran, including a couple with their child.
At least 40 schools, mainly in Hokkaido and other parts of northeastern Japan, either called off classes or delayed the start of classes following the warning. A school operator in Ibaraki Prefecture also decided to cancel classes at three schools.
About four minutes after North Korea was believed to have fired a ballistic missile shortly before 6 a.m., the J-Alert warning system advised people in 12 prefectures to take precautions.
About 12 minutes after the first alert, the system then warned that the missile had just flown above land. The government later announced that the projectile fell into the Pacific Ocean about 1,180 km east of Cape Erimo in Hokkaido.
“This morning I was woken by an alert on my phone,” said Joshua Hamilton, a 36-year-old Australian resident in Sapporo. “I read the message which is entirely in Japanese, and recognized the words North Korea and missile.”
A few minutes later he started getting messages from friends and his mother in Australia, asking him if he was OK, he said.
Other residents were surprised at the apparent lack of alarm among colleagues.
“I think the biggest shock was how nobody at my workplace seemed fazed about the missile,” said Mia Abe, 23, an American resident in Biei, Hokkaido. “Everyone just laughed it off as if it was a joke.”
North Korea did not issue an advance notice that it would send a projectile over Japan as required by international rules, the Japanese government said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government is taking “every possible measure to protect the lives of the people.”
But glitches were reported in the disaster radio network in some municipalities, including the town of Erimo.
Bullet train services and some conventional railway services in the 12 prefectures were temporarily halted. Some train services in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture were also disrupted, even though they had not been subject to the warning.
The latest missile launch came after Japan mobilized some of its ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors to Hiroshima and three other prefectures in western Japan to deal with North Korea’s recent threat to launch missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam.
The missile did not affect the western prefectures, but a 13-year-old junior high school student in Hiroshima said, “We don’t know when it will come. It’s really scary.”