By Daewoung Kim and Joori Roh
SEOUL (Reuters) – Hours after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over neighboring Japan on Tuesday, residents of a South Korean coastal city were shocked to see flames shooting from a nearby military base and missiles rising to the sky.
It was not the start of a war, but a show of military force by South Korea gone awry in a rocket fuel fire.
Intended to deter North Korea, South Korea said it was conducting a night drill with Hyunmoo-2C short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) when one misfired shortly after launch and hit the ground inside the base in Gangneung, on the east coast of South Korea. .
The missile carried a warhead but was unarmed and did not explode, and there were no casualties, a military official told a briefing. The official apologized for causing concern to residents.
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However, burning rocket fuel lit up the night sky, prompting calls to emergency services and fueling rumors on social media that went unanswered for eight hours until the military revealed the drill and explained the fire.
“Suddenly I heard a roar and it made me think something was wrong,” said Kim Hee-soo, a nearby resident. “So I looked at the area where Hyunmoo missiles had been fired earlier and there was flames and smoke and it was a total mess.”
A video Kim shared on social media went viral overnight, with other residents weighing in with concerns and fears amid silence from military authorities.
“I thought it was a war,” said one in a comment on the video.
Another said their home was rocked by the blast, and a third said they evacuated, thinking a landslide was headed for their home.
In densely populated South Korea, military training often takes place near communities, prompting some protests.
The 24-hour disaster management office in Gangneung told Reuters it had received several calls from concerned residents.
An agency official said the military had confirmed it was conducting a drill, but did not explain the fire and city firefighters were not called to the base.
Kim said he is used to missile launches from the base, including a joint US-South Korean daytime drill in June in response to other tests by North Korea.
“I have never experienced an accident like this in my years of being born and raised here,” said Kim, 43. “She makes me very nervous and I hope they can let us know every time they do a workout.”
(Written by Josh Smith. Edited by Gerry Doyle)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.