North Korean missile over Japan terrifies Edmonton musician
'There was a siren that I had never heard before. It was very eerie'
Laurier Tiernan was startled out of sleep by the wail of air raid sirens.
Within seconds, a bing, bing, bing of the cell phone also alerted him to approaching danger.
A North Korean missile was flying over Japan.
The Edmonton-born musician and his wife Eiko were directly in the flight path.
'It was very eerie'
"On Tuesday morning, there was a siren that I had never heard before. It was very eerie," Tiernan said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "My wife's phone alarm went off, shortly after these strange alarms.
"My wife dove for her phone and she said, 'Oh my God, there are missiles from North Korea headed in our direction.' "
The missile was launched from near North Korean capital Pyongyang and flew about 2,700 kilometres, reaching an unconventionally low altitude of about 550 km, according to the Japanese government.
People living beneath the missile's flight path received an alert on their cellphones at 6:02 a.m., just minutes after the projectile was launched.
Public television programs in Japan were interrupted with a warning screen announcing the missile's flight over the country, as bullet trains were halted.
In earthquake-prone Japan, public alerts advising the public to seek emergency shelter are commonplace.
Since moving from Edmonton to Japan more than a decade ago, earthquakes have become almost mundane for Tiernan, who likens them to "rain in Vancouver."
The community, in Akita Prefecture, near the northern island of Hokkaido, still relies on public loudspeakers on posts to announce breaks and meal times for farm workers.
Tiernan knew the siren at 6 a.m. Tuesday was something different.
"I held Eiko's hand. The speakers outside told us to get to a safe place," he said.
His mind raced as he wondered what to do. Almost no one has a basement in rural Japan.
"Here in the countryside, we're surrounded by rice fields and paper and wooden buildings and there are really no safe locations."
Tiernan tried to remember all the safety presentations he'd heard back in school during the Cold War, and only became more terrified.
'I started panicking'
"I grew up in the 1980s and I had learned the legendary seven minute thing — that allegedly it takes a nuclear warhead seven minutes to get from point A to point B anywhere in the world.That was the legend when I was growing up."
According to his calculations, they only had five minutes before disaster struck.
Tiernan was panicking, but his groggy wife was not nearly as alarmed.
"I grabbed my wife's hand and she was already falling back asleep, and I started panicking as to what we should do," said Tiernan, squealing at the memory.
"There [are] no real secure areas. But my wife said, 'We'll be fine, we'll be fine.' She's very instinctive in that way.
"In these types of situations, you just never know."
'There is a lot of hysteria'
A few frantic minutes later, a public announcement blared across the loudspeakers that they were now safe.
"The announcement came from the speakers that the missile had passed overhead and shortly after that the announcement from the speakers came for breakfast, but I couldn't go back to sleep, of course."
The government estimates that the missile broke into three pieces before crashing about 1,180 km off the eastern coast of Japan. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the missile launch was a "prelude" to containing the U.S. territory of Guam.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it "unprecedented, serious and a grave threat."
The incident has made the country more wary, but the older rural populations seem less alarmed than urban Japanese, said Tiernan.
"I think a lot of these [rural] people have lived through the war so a lot of these people have already been through some rough stuff in their past and so they're not as panicked as the youth in Tokyo," he said. "There is a lot of hysteria in Tokyo."