By David Jones
Last updated at 2:07 AM on 18th March 2011
‘We’ve been left to die’: Minamisoma’s mayor Katsunobu Sakarai told the BBC his people felt alone and in danger
The voice on the phone was calm and dignified, as befitted a proud Japanese mayor, yet this somehow made his fury more forceful.
Hours after the tsunami struck, Katsunobu Sakurai told me, he had sought advice from the government on whether to evacuate the 71,000 people in his city, which is just 12 miles downwind of the Fukushima nuclear plant.
At first ministerial officials simply ignored his calls. When he did manage to speak to them, they assured him there was no cause for concern; a message he accepted and dutifully relayed.
He had toed the line because that is what Japan’s civic leaders invariably do. But yesterday, far too late, the mayor of Minamisoma finally realised that he had been deceived, at best, and perhaps even lied to.
‘Of course I am angry,’ he told me through an interpreter yesterday. ‘I was ignored and then badly misled, and as a result the people were abandoned here to die.
‘But I was the one who told them it was safe to stay, and now I have decided that I must be the last person to leave this city. I have been in my office since last Friday, and I won’t go until the last person has left safely.’
For a city mayor to voice such sentiments at a time when his countrymen are being urged to stand together in the face of Armageddon is tantamount to mutiny.
He may not be the last to turn on prime minister Naoto Kan and his government as their platitudes and misinformation test the admirable forbearance of the Japanese public to its limits.
Even as foreign embassies urged their subjects to flee the country and international experts warned that Japan faces the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the Tokyo cabinet blithely played down the crisis.
As a result, many people here no longer know who or what to believe. As they hunker down in their homes and wait, this heightens their anxiety.
Cut adrift: Local residents look at debris brought by the huge tsunami in Minamisoma, before the exclusion zone was brought in
Survivor: Hiromitsu Shinkawa, who is from Minamisoma, was found floating ten miles from shore on his house roof
Desperate plight: Although many buildings were left standing, the town has still been devastated by last Friday’s tsunami
Safe? This map shows cities within the evacuation zones surrounding Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant
Nowhere is there more terror than in Minamisoma, a tsunami-ravaged coastal city whose outskirts are within sight of the smoke clouds billowing eerily from the nuclear plant.
Story including stunning photo’s, continues here: