Japanese wake-up to 'terrifying' North Korea threat

  • 30/08/2017

Ai Onodera was sound asleep in Hokkaido, northern Japan when an alarm on her mobile phone jolted her awake: "Missile launch. Missile launch. North Korea appears to have fired a missile. Take refuge in a solid building or underground".

Four minutes earlier, on Tuesday at 5:58 am (local time), North Korea launched its first ballistic missile to fly over Japan since 2009, and it was headed her way, toward Japan's northernmost main island.

Within three minutes of the launch, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered officials to analyse incoming information. A minute later, the government sent out a "J-alert" on its nationwide warning system.

In a panic, Onodera, 33, turned on the TV. All channels were flashing a bulletin with the same warning. She quickly called her husband, who was away on a business trip.

"I was terrified that I wouldn't see him again," said the resident of Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital.

A few short minutes after the first warning, at 6:06 am, the missile entered the air over Hokkaido, according to government bulletins.

By 6:07 am, the missile - travelling at close to 12,000 km/hour at a maximum altitude of 550 km - had hurtled across the island, flying out to sea.

In many northern towns, sirens wailed and loudspeakers urged residents to take precautions.

Some people still living in temporary housing after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami said on social media "What do they mean, solid buildings? We don't have any."

In recent weeks, North Korea has launched a series of missiles toward Japan, but most crash into the Sea of Japan to the west of the country.

The growing threats have prompted several coastal towns on Japan's main island of Honshu to hold missile drills.

At 6:12 am, some 14 minutes after it was launched near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the missile fell into the Pacific some 1180 km east of Hokkaido's Cape Erimo.