North Korean missile launch sparks erroneous ‘take cover’ alert in Japan
Japan cancelled an erroneous warning for residents of northern parts of the country to seek shelter after North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile early on Thursday morning.
The missile launch was detected by the South Korean military from a site close to Pyongyang at 7.22am, triggering Japan’s J-Alert early warning system. In messages automatically sent out via television, radio and mobile phone, residents of Hokkaido were instructed to seek shelter underground or in sturdy concrete buildings.
Aircraft operating in the area were also warned of the launch.
Twenty minutes later, the J-Alert instruction was rescinded over the government’s Em-Net emergency information network, which is also used to warn the public of major natural disasters. Officials said the warning was withdrawn after it became apparent that there was no likelihood of the North Korean weapon coming down on Japanese territory.
Yasukazu Hamada, the Japanese defence minister, confirmed later in the morning that the missile flew about 620 miles before splashing down off the west coast of Japan. It is believed the weapon did not land in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Residents of Hokkaido largely shrugged off the latest North Korean missile test.
“The alert went off on my phone as I was driving and it is always a little alarming to hear that loud warning,” said Makoto Watanabe, an academic who lives in Sapporo.
“But then the announcement was that it was a missile and I figured that there was very little chance of it hitting my car.
“The alert told me I should hide underground, but I kept driving,” he told The Telegraph.
There has been criticism of the J-Alert system sending out erroneous warnings in the past, most recently on October 4 last year, when a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile flew over the northern Japan prefecture of Aomori before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, but Mr Watanabe said the alerts were “appropriate”.
“It must be very difficult to track these launches, to work out their speed and flight paths, so I think it is right that the government issues a warning as soon as they are able to confirm that one is heading for Japan,” he said.
“It is better to be over-cautious, even if it is unlikely that North Korea is actually attacking Japan and the biggest threat is that one of these missiles suffers a malfunction that brings it down on Japan.”
Hideo Okada, a property manager in the town of Niseko, similarly heard the J-Alert on his radio as he was driving to work but was unperturbed.
“What can you do? The chances of my car being hit were tiny so I was not concerned,” he said. “But they are crazy to keep doing this.”
Sayaka Hamano, who owns a hotel outside Sapporo, was less sanguine about the incident, which she said had badly shaken her eight-year-old son.
“I was driving him to school and I was shocked when I saw the fear on his face when the alert went off,” she said.
“I don’t think North Korea would make the mistake of deliberately attacking Japan, but these missiles can have accidents. That’s why I think it is important that we still use the J-Alert system, even if it is not perfect.”
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