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‘I Didn’t Know Where to Go’: Stunned Japan Reacts to North Korean Missile Launch

Residents of northern Japan woke up to horrifying alerts warning of a North Korean missile attack Tuesday morning, and many have told local news outlets they had little idea what to do or where to go to stay safe.

North Korea fired a missile over Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, late Monday afternoon in America (early Tuesday morning local time).

While the missile broke apart over the Pacific Ocean and authorities have not identified any damage from the launch, the Japanese government has issued stern remarks warning North Korea to cease its weapons development. President Donald Trump issued a statement following his conversation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warning that “all options are on the table” regarding ending the North Korean threat.

Upon identifying the direction in which the projectile was flying, Japanese officials began to send phone alerts and turn on nuclear alarm warnings in 12 of the nation’s prefectures, or provinces, including Fukushima, which continues to suffer tremendous nuclear pollution following a meltdown at its Daiichi plant in 2011.

The alerts warned residents to find “sturdy buildings” and wait for the government to ensure the situation was safe before resuming their lives. Japanese media confirmed that such a warning had never been sent to as wide an area of the country before.

According to Mashable, the first text alert, sent at nearly 6 AM local time, read: “A missile was fired from North Korea. Please evacuate to a sturdy building or basement.” The second: “A North Korean missile passed over this area. If you find suspicious things, please never touch them.”

“It said to flee to a sturdy building, but I have no idea if my home is sturdy enough or if I should run to an evacuation center,” an unnamed woman in Iwate prefecture told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday. Versions of this story surfaced repeatedly in Japanese outlets.

“There’s a university hospital nearby, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to evacuate there, so I’m going to consult with a neighbor,” Kimi Makanae, an 85-year-old in Aomori prefecture, told the Mainichi Shimbun, explaining that she followed the emergency alert’s instructions of leaving her home but had no direction on what to do after that.

“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,” Ichiro Kondo, a 38-year-old fisherman in Hokkaido, told Kyodo News. In Sapporo, the regional capital, reports stated that some outside seeking shelter resorted to the subway station. “I thought the station was safer than my own home,” an unidentified man told Mainichi. “I’m glad the missile just flew past, but I never imagined a missile would be launched in the direction of Hokkaido.”

Overall, police confirmed they received over 90 emergency calls from individuals following the alert, many asking what they were supposed to do to save themselves. Dozens of schools canceled or delayed classes for Tuesday.

Asahi notes that many train lines also temporarily canceled services in the event of a larger impending disaster.

The Japanese government has responded sternly to the attack. “It is clear that North Korea has no intention to engage in dialogue, so now is the time to heighten pressure,” Abe reportedly told Trump during their 40-minute phone call following the incident. In remarks to the Japanese people, Abe called the launch an “unprecedentedly grave and serious threat.”

“We agreed to immediately call for an emergency U.N. meeting to further strengthen pressure on North Korea. By cooperating with the United States and South Korea as well as calling on the international community, including China and Russia, we will have to apply strong pressure on North Korea in order to have it change its policy,” Abe said.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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