March 27, 2013, 9:08 PM — The earthquake and tsunami that demolished northeastern Japan in 2011 left many thousands of its survivors cut off from their homes. But displaced residents of Namie-machi, a small town on the eastern coast of the Pacific that's still in an exclusion zone, can now at least get a present-day glimpse of their neighborhood, thanks to Google.
The 21,000 residents of Namie-machi still are not allowed to enter the city, but they can access Street View imagery of it on Google Maps, Google announced Wednesday.
The images, which capture scenes such as collapsed buildings and wrecked fishing boats washed ashore, are the product of a joint effort between Google and Namie-machi Mayor Tamotsu Baba to give locals and people abroad a look at the damage left by the quake, tsunami and resulting nuclear meltdowns. Google captured the images with one of its regular Street View camera-equipped vehicles.
"Many of the displaced townspeople have asked to see the current state of their city, and there are surely many people around the world who want a better sense of how the nuclear incident affected surrounding communities," Baba said in a blog post.
While many areas of Japan have begun to recover since the 9.03-magnitude earthquake, Namie-machi's rebuilding has been slower. The town, which sits inside the Fukushima nuclear plant exclusion area, was been made a no-entry zone due to its high levels of radiation.
"With the lingering nuclear hazard, we have only been able to do cursory work for two whole years," Baba said. "We would greatly appreciate it if you viewed this Street View imagery to understand the current state of Namie-machi and the tremendous gravity of the situation," he wrote.
Many of the 140 fishing boats previously docked at the nearby Ukedo Harbor, for example, suffered some of the worst tsunami damage and have not been cleaned up since being washed several kilometers inland, Baba wrote.
"We want this Street View imagery to become a permanent record of what happened to Namie-machi in the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster," he wrote.
Google said it took government-prescribed precautions to make sure its workers were safe during the shoot, and vehicles were screened for radiation on a daily basis.