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Philippines braces for North Korean rocket debris

April 11, 2012 |  7:10 pm


As North Korea prepares to launch a rocket in a path that could put it near the Philippines, the islands have cleared their northeastern waters and airspace and warned people to stay inside, unconvinced by North Korean assurances that the rocket will follow a "safe trajectory."

"They are testing something that lands in somebody else's territory. That is not right," Philippine President Benigno Aquino III reportedly said at a summit of Southeast Asian nations last week.

Thursday begins the five-day period during which North Korea has said it will send a satellite into space, meant to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung.

Japan and South Korea say they'll intercept any falling debris from the rocket in their airspace, but the Philippines says it doesn't have the same capabilities, which has added to its anxiety. Boats were being barred  from a 366-square-mile zone in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported. Flights have been diverted across the region.

“We make sure that no fisherman, no aircraft, no ship will be crossing in that area so that we expect zero casualties in the event that there will be fallout,” civil defense administrator Benito Ramos told the Voice of America.

Philippines officials say it is unlikely that any rocket debris will be flung onto land but have nonetheless cautioned people near the coast to stay indoors. Scrap metal dealers have been warned not to touch any fallen debris. Emergency teams and disaster agencies have been put on alert.

Rocket expert Maximo Sacro Jr. estimated it would take a falling booster three or four hours to tumble into Philippine territory after splitting from the rocket, the Inquirer reported.

That could give them a crucial window to warn people away from its projected path,  provided they get word when the North Koreans launch, he told reporters during a disaster risk briefing this week.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Philippine Vice Admiral Alexander Pama talks with foreign correspondents Tuesday in Manila. Pama talked about the preparations for possible debris from the North Korean rocket launch. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP/Getty Images