KOTOURA, Japan (Reuters) - Residents of a town on the Japanese coast held evacuation drills on Saturday to prepare for any launch of North Korean missiles towards the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, that would fly over their homes.
As sirens blared from speakers in the town of Kotoura, children playing soccer outside ran to take shelter in a school, along with their parents and their team coach.
“I’ve been concerned every day that something might fall or a missile could fall in an unexpected place due to North Korea’s missile capabilities,” said the coach, Akira Hamakawa, 38.
North Korea’s rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles has fuelled a surge in tension across the region.
U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea this month it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States.
The North responded by threatening to fire missiles towards the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam. Any such missiles would have to fly over western Japan.
While North Korea later said it was holding off firing towards Guam, tension remains high and annual joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea beginning on Monday are likely to enrage Pyongyang.
Nearly 130 people took part in the drill in Kotoura, which has a population of 18,000, a town official said.
For 10 minutes, people ducked down covering their heads with their arms. Many of those taking part said they were worried.
North Korea has in the past threatened to attack Japan, a staunch U.S. ally and host to U.S. military bases.
Japan is the only country in the world to be attacked with nuclear weapons.
Authorities are publishing notices in newspapers, on television and online, advising people to take shelter in robust buildings and to keep away from windows should missiles land.
Evacuation drills, however, have only been held in remote towns such as Kotoura.
A North Korean missile could reach Japan in about 10 minutes.
“A lot of people participated in the drill with a sense of emergency,” said Yosuke Suenaga, the cabinet counsellor of situation response and crisis management.
Reporting by Kwiyeon Ha; Writing by Tim Kelly and Junko Fujita; Editing by Robert Birsel