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Once a hero, Japan mayor now faces criminal charges over tsunami decisions

  • BoatStrandedHospital.JPG

    The remains of a boat are stranded on the side of a hospital following the 2011 tsunami in Japan. (Fox News)

  • MainentranceHospital.JPG

    This photo shows the ruins of the hospital's main entrance following the 2011 tsunami. (Fox News)

  • DisasterCenter.JPG

    This photo shows the remains of the disaster center following the 2011 tsunami. (Fox News)

In March 2011, Mayor Jin Sato was seen as a hero when tsunamis ripped into Japan's shore following a massive earthquake.

Sato, mayor of the picturesque Minamisanriku fishing town, garnered the respect of victims’ families when he refused to head to higher ground on that fateful March 11.

But now Sato, who is accused of ordering his staff to stay at their post at an exposed disaster center, is facing criminal negligence charges.

The majority of the town was built on a flat plain on the coast, which is why it felt the full force of the wave. Videos of the approaching wave are available on the internet, though it seems more like a disaster movie than a deadly reality.

It is easy for visitors to see the devastation the tsunami caused, as well as how very little has changed in terms of rebuilding the town one year later.

The landscape is still dominated by foundations of houses after they were swept away, and the crumbled ruin of the main hospital that had been built not far from the shore.

The wrecked main entrance of the hospital still features a shrine to the dead. Hospital staff had tried to help patients to the top of the five-story building, but 74 did not make it on time.

There is also a shrine to the unquestioned hero of the disaster, 24-year-old Miki Endo.

Endo kept at her post at the disaster prevention center in the middle of the town warning people of the danger approaching through the community broadcast system until the wave struck.

There is no doubt Endo's bravery saved many lives as footage from that day shows people still struggling to escape the tsunami as it hurtled down the streets.

Endo's body was never found.

While she was broadcasting her warning, Sato was nearby in the building. He also didn't leave his post but families of the 41 public officials who died there say their deaths could have been prevented if Sato had ordered his staff to evacuate in time.

Relatives claim the staff was pressured by Sato to stay there.

As the tsunami wave approached Sato, and those that could, climbed onto the roof of the three-story building and clung onto railings as the wave swept completely over the disaster center.

Sato and nine other officials survived, but those on the lower floors, including Endo, perished.

The area is so flat and the coastal valley so open, that it is obvious the people in the building could see the 50-ft. wave approaching minutes ahead of time.

As you walk around the crumbled wreck of the building now your mind screams out for those people to leave and run to higher ground which is only about five minutes away if you sprinted.

No decision has yet been made yet over what to do with the remains of the building.

Many want it to remain as a memorial.

Sato is also facing criticism for the positioning of the emergency headquarters in a low-lying position in the center of town and near a river.

It is noticeable that any building on the hills above the valley including the main government building were untouched by the tsunami.

Sato had extremely difficult choices to make on the day of the tsunami and in Japanese culture it's usual that the boss leads and others follow.

If he had died on that day then he would be seen as a hero but now it seems he will have to face the consequences of his actions.