Residents living near Japan’s devastated nuclear plant have returned home for the first time since the crisis began more than two months ago.
Wearing white protective suits and masks, they had only two hours to stuff their belongings into rubbish bags before leaving again.
Some residents stole a few minutes to light incense at a makeshift shrine in Namie, one of the deserted, evacuated towns frozen in time since March 11. Debris is still piled several stories high there, with a ship resting precariously atop one heap.
Around 80,000 people were evacuated from towns near the plant – including Futaba, home to the complex – soon after Japan’s massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami flooded the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which then began spewing radiation.
Officials escorted several dozen of them back for a two-hour visit.
“It was just like it was when the quake hit,” said Anna Takano, a 17-year-old high school student. “It felt very strange.”
Takano said she packed up as much clothing from her home as she could and then made a 10-minute visit to her family grave site.
For most, it was the first time they had been able to check on homes and possessions. Similar visits began earlier for towns farther away from the plant, but today’s excursion went deeper into the 12-mile (20-kilometre) no-go zone around the plant than any before it.
Many evacuees from the nuclear zone did not realise how long the crisis would drag on and left with only the clothes they were wearing and their purses or wallets.
Due to radiation concerns, officials allowed only two people per household to return and let them stay at their homes only for two hours.