Google’s haunting Fukushima Street View images

Mar 29, 2013

FORTUNE -- Google's Street View has come to one of the most desolate spots on earth. Namie-machi, a small village in the Fukushima Prefecture, has been a ghost town since shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The city was evacuated of surviving residents due to the radiation created by one of the world's worst nuclear disasters. They have yet to return their homes.

Google (goog) said the 360-degree panoramas are intended to show the city’s 21,000 residents as well as researchers and scientists what has become of the town. It is part of the “Memories for the Future” project, which is archiving photographs and video of before and after the disaster.

The images offer a stark, almost apocalyptic view of what remains. The images captured by Google's now iconic Street View car show an eerily quiet landscape dotted with abandoned stores, toppled homes, and washed-up boats. “Ever since the March disaster, the rest of the world has been moving forward, and many places in Japan have started recovering,” Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie-machi, wrote on Google's Japan Blog. “But in Namie-machi time stands still. With the lingering nuclear hazard, we have only been able to do cursory work for two whole years.”

In March 2011, an 8.9-magnitude quake hit the coast of Japan about 250 miles from Tokyo. The shock waves caused most of the reactors at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant to shut down. Worse, the earthquake generated a 23-foot-tall tsunami that flooded the rooms where the site's backup generators were located. Because they lacked cooling water, reactors overheated. Eventually, the plant was caught in a full-blown meltdown. Clean-up crews have been fighting the effects of the disaster ever since.

You can see images taken by Google below, or see the panoramas here.

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