S Korea holds mass civil defence drill amid tension

S Korea has launched a civil defence drill amid tensions over North`s deadly artillery attack.

Seoul: South Korea launched its biggest-ever civil defence drill amid high tensions over North Korea`s deadly artillery attack last month and its nuclear programmes.

Sirens wailed across the country at 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) on Wednesday to signal the start of the 15-minute exercise. Most traffic quickly halted on Seoul`s main street, Sejongno, and elsewhere in the bustling city centre.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the nationwide evacuation drill was the first of its kind since a civil defence law was passed in 1975.

Under the scenario, 12 jet fighters were to scream overhead to simulate air strikes by the North and pedestrians were to be ushered into shelters.

Pavements quickly emptied in the capital but it was not immediately clear how many took refuge in shelters.

"The special nationwide evacuation drill is aimed at dealing effectively with a real situation like North Korea`s artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island," NEMA said in a statement.

"Public concern has been growing over North Korea`s provocations," it said, citing continued military threats, high tensions in the Yellow Sea near the disputed border and the possibility of a third nuclear test by Pyongyang.

The North`s November 23 bombardment of the border island killed four people including civilians. It was the first attack on civilian-populated areas since the 1950-53 war.

According to plans for the drill, all road and pedestrian traffic in cities was to be halted for 15 minutes. School classes were to be suspended, with students and teachers told to take shelter.
People at home were advised to switch off gas and electricity and move into underground shelters. Residents of high-rise buildings were urged to take the stairs instead of elevators.

Ships and airline flights were not affected. Trains and cars using expressways were urged to slow down.
At seven Seoul subway stations, training involving firefighters, soldiers and government officials was to be conducted. NEMA was to check emergency kits at 25,724 state-designated shelters nationwide.

In the border city of Paju, stage agencies were to conduct training against a mock attack by North Korean chemical weapons.

Bureau Report

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