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Ex-mayor expresses anger at TEPCO in trial over Fukushima crisis

Katsunobu Sakurai, former mayor of Minamisoma, stands in front of the Iwaki branch of the Fukushima District Court in Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Kyodo)

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A former mayor of a city hit by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis told a court on Wednesday that he wants to express his "anger" on behalf of citizens who had to flee their homes due to the disaster and whose lives are still filled with uncertainties.

Katsunobu Sakurai, who was Minamisoma mayor at the time the crisis erupted, testified before the Fukushima District Court in a lawsuit filed by 151 people whose homes were in Minamisoma seeking 3.7 billion yen ($32.7 million) in damages from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., saying the nuclear accident destroyed their communities due to the evacuation.

Sakurai was chosen among U.S. Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2011 after sharing the city's predicament and calling for support via YouTube in the wake of one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.

Following the accident, part of the city was designated as an evacuation zone where 151 people comprising 47 households used to live. Currently, most of the city is no longer subject to evacuation orders.

Sakurai said the city was forced to arrange evacuation buses on its own amid lack of information from the central government and he "felt bitter and angry" after learning that the government helped arrange transportation for some other municipalities.

He also said the city's residents are reluctant to return due to the slow progress of decommissioning the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

"They think they might have to evacuate again," Sakurai said.

Sakurai had been the city's mayor until losing his seat in an election in January.

The Minamisoma residents filed the damages suit in 2015 for their losses and changes to their hometown as a result of the nuclear accident, triggered by a major earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

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