Google Street View maps ghost town evacuated after Fukushima


An image of Soma, Japan, from Google's "Memories for the future" project. (Google)

For two years, no one has entered the town of Namie without hazmat suits and government approval. But thanks to Google Street View, former residents and observers around the world will soon be able to virtually tour one of the Fukushima meltdown's biggest casualties.

On March 4, Google began mapping the town at the request of its residents and mayor, Tamotsu Baba, ABC reports. Namie sits just north of the disabled Daiichi nuclear plant, whose 2011 meltdown marked the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Namie's 20,000 residents have since relocated, more than half to other cities in the Fukushima province. Google expects to finish its map within a few weeks.

The tech company has actively documented the damage from Japan's 2011 tsunami (and the ensuing nuclear meltdown) since they first devastated the area almost exactly two years ago. Google created a Web site, "Mirai e no kioku”" -- or "memories for the future" -- with Street View footage from before and after the tsunami. Some of it is chilling, like these before and after images from Ishinomaki, a city north of Namie.


Ishinomaki, before and after the 2011 tsunami (Google)

"There's nothing that compares to actually coming in and seeing [the damage] for yourself," Kei Kawai, Google's Namie project manager, told ABC. "But we can at least show what these places are like, to the people who [evacuated] the city, to the world."

It may be many years until anyone sees Namie much closer than that. As ABC reports, the Japanese government has cordoned the area off; the Post's Chico Harlan, traveling through the evacuation zone eight months after the meltdown, described a ghost town where cobwebs covered storefronts and mushrooms spouted through living room floors.

“By photographing the town and making those photographs publicly available, we can show the townspeople the condition of the streets," Namie's mayor said in a promotional video for the project, translated by Japanese news blog RocketNews 24. "In addition, I want to show the world the true state of Namie.”

View the full video, with footage from Namie, below.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey | March 6, 2013