Wednesday 29 January 2020

'I knew I had to get to her' - Irishman tells of fears for partner

People walk by a TV news program reporting North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo. Photo: AP
People walk by a TV news program reporting North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo. Photo: AP

Dean Gray

An Irishman living in Japan feared that his ill girlfriend might be abandoned in hospital if North Korea hit the country with a ballistic missile.

Brendan Walsh lives on Japan's Hokkaido Island and said he was woken up yesterday morning by an emergency state text alert, advising people to take cover after North Korea launched a missile over the island. The missile flew for around 2,700km before it broke into three pieces and landed in the sea.

Mr Walsh, who is from Maynooth in Co Kildare, said the terrifying incident had prompted him to pack an emergency kit in case the worst happened.

"I was in bed and I had my alarm set for 6.40am but I was woken earlier by an emergency text alert; we might get those alerts for tsunamis or volcano alerts from the government," he said. "The word emergency is in English and the rest is in Japanese, I looked and saw 'North Korea has launched a missile'.

"I assumed it was maybe a missile that was a bit too close for comfort, we're aware that they often launch missiles and they'll end up in the sea off Japan. Two minutes later my neighbour came in and said we had to get out, we had to evacuate and head towards an underground subway station."

Mr Walsh, who has lived in Japan for 14 months, said he immediately thought about his ill partner.

He told RTÉ: "It was very strange, I didn't know how to feel. My first concern was that I would need to get to my girlfriend because she's ill in hospital at the moment.

"She's on the fourth floor, she's very weak, she can barely move. I just kept thinking would they leave her there and run? I knew I had to get to her."

While he hopes that North Korea won't target Japan again, he said the incident had prompted him to think about his options in case war breaks out. "I'm not going to lose sleep over this, if there's another one I might consider coming home a bit more."

By the time the majority of people living on Hokkaido Island, such as Brendan, had seen the warnings, the danger was long past.

The government subsequently announced that the missile was launched at 5.57am local time but had only been in Japanese airspace for a little over two minutes before falling into the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Hokkaido.

Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, said most of his friends and colleagues had not been overly worried about the missile launch as the relatively rural island is unlikely to be a target. "I do not think that North Korea would ever try to hit a target on land in Japan because that would be a step too far, even by their standards," he said.

"Perhaps the biggest threat comes from one of these missiles failing in flight and then coming down on Japan. It is almost ironic that Japan is going to be safer when North Korea's missile technology gets better."

In Tokyo the mood was relatively calm. Commuters on morning trains were checking the news on their smartphones, but services ran as normal and there was no sense of panic.

Irish Independent

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