AKITA, Japan – Crisis control officials opened an emergency center in northern Japan on Thursday to prepare for the launch of a North Korean rocket expected to fly over Japanese territory.
Gov. Sukeshiro Terata, who heads the crisis control headquarters in Akita Prefecture (state), urged officials and residents to stay calm. He said the possibility of a launch failure that would send debris or fragments falling toward Japan was "one in a million."
Click to view photos | Satellite image of the launch area
"We believe a flying object from North Korea is unlikely to land in our territory. Yet, we must be prepared just in case," Terata said.
Pyongyang has said it will launch a communications satellite into orbit between Saturday and Wednesday, and that it will pass over Akita and Iwate. Regional powers suspect the North is using the launch to test long-range ballistic missile technology.
Last week, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered the deployment of interceptor missiles for the first time to protect the nation from falling debris if the launch goes awry.
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Members of the crisis control headquarters said they have done everything they can to prepare.
By late Wednesday, all 25 towns and villages in Akita had finished installing a computer-based hot line connecting them to the prime minister's office. They will hold a joint drill later Thursday, along with towns in nearby Iwate prefecture (state), crisis management official Makoto Sasaki said.
Officials said police and rescue workers are on standby, while teachers have been instructed to keep radios and televisions on at all times starting Saturday to monitor any announcement or unexpected event during school activities. Many Japanese schools have classes or sports activities on weekends.
About 30 officials will be on duty at the emergency headquarters this weekend.
North Korea has notified international organizations that the multistage rocket is expected to drop its first stage into the Sea of Japan about 80 miles off the western coast of Akita before passing over Japan's airspace to the Pacific.
Sasaki asked residents to continue their daily activities as usual, but urged them to closely monitor media reports and quickly take refuge inside buildings in the case of an emergency.
Batteries of PAC-3 land-to-air missile interceptors were sent to a coastal army base in Akita. A pair of destroyers armed with ship-to-air SM-3 interceptors are already in northern waters off the coast of Akita.
The Defense Ministry also has also deployed the missile interceptors in and around Tokyo to protect the country's capital.