TOKYO – Cities on the northern Japanese coast are setting up hot lines and emergency headquarters and conducting safety drills to prepare for possible falling debris from North Korea's planned rocket launch, officials said Thursday.
North Korea has said it will launch a communications satellite between April 4-8, and has designated waters off northern Japan as a risk zone for falling fragments.
Japan and its allies have said the launch is intended to also test long-range ballistic missile technology. The government is readying an order to deploy a missile shield, including interceptors, to protect against debris that might fall short and hit Japan. The order is expected Friday.
"We are preparing to do everything we can to protect the safety and lives of the people," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura.
Japan is also set to shift some of the batteries of PAC-3 land-to-air missiles, now in around Tokyo, to the north coast and send a pair of destroyers carrying missile interceptors to nearby waters.
In the meantime, locals are getting ready.
Pyongyang has designated the waters off northern Akita and Iwate prefectures (states) as a risk zone for falling fragments, and officials in Iwate have set up hot lines connecting town offices and increased overnight staffing before and during the scheduled launch dates.
They have also reviewed contingency measures to deal with possible damage.
Some said there was little they could do.
"The problem is that we have no idea if it will hit us or where it will land until it happens," said prefectural disaster management official Shuzo Koshino. "We won't have time for evacuation or to do anything. Where do we evacuate to, anyway? We don't have underground shelters."
Koshino said many people are concerned about safety, as the launch dates overlap with the beginning of the country's school year, when many ceremonies are planned for new students.
"We must be prepared, but we don't want to incite fear among citizens or restrict their activity," he said. "We just have to believe that the chance of being hit by missile debris is smaller than getting hit by a car. Otherwise, you can't leave your house."
In Tottori on Japan's northwestern coast, officials held an emergency drill Wednesday.
Japan has also warned of additional sanctions against North Korea if the country went ahead with a launch, and the Japanese parliament is set to issue a statement Friday urging the North to scrap the launch, which Japan says violates a U.N. Security Council resolution barring North Korea from any ballistic missile development activity.
Japan imposed tight trade sanctions against Pyongyang in 2006 after it tested ballistic missiles in waters between the two countries and conducted an atomic test. Japan's current sanctions, which have been extended every six months, are set to expire April 13.