North Korea’s Failed Satellite Launch Triggers Panic and Evacuation Alerts in Seoul

North Korea's Failed Satellite Launch Triggers Panic and Evacuation Alerts in Seoul

The early morning calm in Seoul, the South Korean capital, was shattered by the unusual sound of air raid sirens and evacuation alerts on mobile phones on Wednesday. This followed North Korea’s unsuccessful attempt to launch what it claimed was a satellite. 

North Korea, a nuclear power, saw its sixth satellite launch fail, with both the booster and payload plummeting into the sea. However, the launch attempt had already triggered emergency alerts and evacuation warnings in parts of South Korea and Japan. 

“I was so panicked. Emergency hotlines were jammed and the internet was slow,” expressed Lee Juyeon, a 33-year-old resident of the bustling city of about 10 million, who also has a 9-month-old child. “Without understanding the real situation, I was on the verge of seeking shelter in a basement with my baby in a wrap carrier.” 

Seoul residents were jolted awake by the sirens at 6:32 am, as the city sent out a “Presidential Alert” urging citizens to prepare for a potential evacuation. This was followed, at least ten minutes later, by another mobile alert from the interior ministry, clarifying that the city’s alert had been sent erroneously. 

Despite the unsettling alert, Lee did not evacuate after seeing a television headline that the alerts were connected to a North Korean space vehicle flying farther south. However, she shared pictures of her friends packing their bags in preparation to evacuate. 

Though the residents of Seoul are accustomed to living under the ever-present threat from their nuclear-armed neighbor, a sense of complacency has crept into many city dwellers regarding the perceived risks and appropriate responses. 

Despite the Korean War ending seven decades ago, the two countries are still technically at war as it concluded with an armistice. 

Read More: Japan Activates Missile Defenses Amid North Korea’s Satellite Launch Alert

Some office workers in central Seoul contemplated their course of action during their commute in response to the alarm, such as stockpiling water or withdrawing cash. 

Kim Jong-hyun, 48, en route to work after dropping off his child at school, expressed his frustration. “I understand it was a mistake, but even if it has to be simple, that alert message should have indicated what was happening and where to go,” he stated. 

Later on Wednesday, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon issued an apology for the confusion surrounding the city’s alert. However, he defended the decision to send an alert as a precautionary measure to ensure public safety. He further added that the city would refine the language used in future messages and warning systems. 

On Wednesday morning, “alerts” and “evacuation” dominated South Korean Twitter trends, with bewildered tweets attempting to comprehend the situation or locate evacuation zones. 

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