Photo/IllutrationStudents of Hokuyo Elementary School evacuate to their school gymnasium during the country's first-ever public evacuation drill to simulate a response to a ballistic missile launched from North Korea in Oga, Akita Prefecture, on March 17. (Kazuyoshi Sako)

OGA, Akita Prefecture--The North Korean threat came into sharp focus with the nation's first-ever public evacuation drill to prepare for ballistic missiles being launched over Japanese waters here on March 17.

Around 120 residents including elementary school students and senior citizens participated in the emergency practice run.

“I had never imagined that we would have to conduct such a drill,” said one participant.

Those who had experienced wartime air raids wore grim expressions.

The exercise was conducted by the central and Oga governments in response to North Korea’s continued missile tests targeting waters around Japan.

It marked the first time since the end of World War II that the government has conducted an emergency drill simulating a response to an armed attack from abroad, according to the central government's Cabinet Secretariat.

At 9:30 a.m. in Oga’s Kitaura district facing the Sea of Japan, a siren sounded, and then a male voice broadcast over the emergency radio speakers said: “Evacuate immediately! Part of a missile is likely to land. Please evacuate indoors.”

A total of 44 students of Hokuyo Elementary School crouching on a school ground rose in unison and rushed into a school gymnasium, forming into lines with a teacher at the front of each one.

About 60 people including senior citizens who had been cleaning up a Shinto shrine or waiting at a bus stop also scurried to a community center and other venues for safety.

Inside the facilities, the evacuees were updated with announcements such as, “The missile was presumed to have fallen into the Sea of Japan.”

At 9:50 a.m., an announcement informed that “there was no damage in this area,” eliciting expressions of relief from children who had been sitting still on the primary school gym floor.