Concrete rubble litters streets lined with shuttered shops and dark windows. A collapsed roof juts from the ground. A ship sits stranded on a stretch of dirt flattened when the tsunami roared across the coastline. And no person in sight.
Google Street View is giving the world a rare glimpse into one of Japan’s eerie ghost towns, created when the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami sparked a nuclear disaster that has left the area uninhabitable.
The technology pieces together digital images captured by Google’s fleet of camera-equipped vehicles and allows viewers to take virtual tours of locations around the world, including far-away spots like the South Pole and fantastic landscapes like the Grand Canyon.
Now it is taking people inside Japan’s nuclear no-go zone, to the city of Namie, whose 21,000 residents have been unable to return to live since they fled the radiation spewing from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant two years ago.
Koto Naganuma, 32, who lost her home in the tsunami, said some people find it too painful to see the places that were so familiar yet are now so out of reach.
She has only gone back once, a year ago, and for a few minutes.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited I can take a look at those places that are so dear to me,” she said. “It would be hard, too. No one is going to be there.”
Namie mayor Tamotsu Baba said memories came flooding back as he looked at the images shot by Google earlier this month.
He spotted an area where an autumn festival used to be held and another of an elementary school that was once packed with schoolchildren.
“Those of us in the older generation feel that we received this town from our forbears and we feel great pain that we cannot pass it down to our children,” he said in a post on his blog.
“We want this Street View imagery to become a permanent record of what happened to Namie-machi in the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.”
Street View was started in 2007 and now provides images from more than 3,000 cities across 48 countries, as well as parts of the Arctic and Antarctica.