It's been over two years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami hit the nation's northeastern coast, devastating the population and creating a nuclear incident at the Fukushima power plant. Despite concentrated efforts to repair the damage though, there are still areas that remain vacant and almost untouched since – but that doesn't mean you can't still explore these places yourself. Google Maps recently added the evacuated town of Namie-machi to Street View as part of a larger project to document the destruction and restoration of areas affected by the earthquake.
Google has been covering much more ground with Street View lately, taking users from towering mountain tops to deep underwater reefs, but the site of one of the most powerful natural disasters on record still seems like an unusual destination for the company's famous camera cars.
Namie-machi was hit particularly hard by the earthquake and has remained practically a ghost town since it became part of the Fukushima exclusion zone due to radiation concerns. The town's population of 21,000 people has been unable to return, leaving the area littered with collapsed buildings and wreckage left over from the tsunami. Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie-machi, hopes that capturing these 360-degree panoramas will allow the displaced former residents to see the current state of the town as well as preserve some of its history before it is cleaned up.
But Namie-machi is just one part of a much larger "Memories for the Future" project that Google has undertaken. The aim is to document as much of the affected areas as possible – from how they appeared before the earthquake to the current state of devastation and eventual restoration.
The company has reached out to people who lived in those areas to provide photographs and videos showing them as they were and has also uploaded thousands of miles worth of recent Street View images. Google has even gone so far as to record the damage done to individual buildings, both inside and out. The plan is to continue documenting buildings that are returned to working order as well as new structures that are constructed.
Most haunting of all though are the images of certain areas that Google happened to already capture prior to the earthquake, which can quickly be compared to the recent photos for a "before and after" effect. Save for a few landmarks, the images taken just a couple years apart are almost unrecognizable from each other.
If you'd like to explore some of the restricted areas of the Fukushima Prefecture yourself, you can head over to Google Maps and start looking around.