New York: Google released images taken by its Street View service from the town of Namie, Japan, inside the zone that was evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.
Google, operator of the world's biggest Web search engine, entered Namie this month at the invitation of the town's mayor, Tamotsu Baba, and produced the 360-degree imagery for the Google Maps and Google Earth services, it said in an e-mailed statement.
All of Namie's 21,000 residents were forced to flee after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, about eight kilometres (5 miles) from the town, causing the world's worst nuclear accident after Chernobyl. Baba asked Mountain View, California-based Google to map the town to create a permanent record of its state two years after the evacuation, he said in a Google blog post.
Street View images show a city frozen in time with abandoned cars and Coca-Cola Co. vending machines still full of drinks. At the "Friend Shop" near highway 6, weeds were growing in the parking lot and the windows still had clothing hanging on display. In another scene, Street View shows a building façade falling apart with rubble in the street.
Google began gathering the Street View images earlier this month, a process that took about two weeks in a single car, Google said in an e-mailed statement. Once completed, company staff worked all weekend to stitch the images together digitally to create the Street View images.
By providing a memento of the past, the images can facilitate residents' healing, said Mary Comerio, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.
"It's obviously a way to record the quality of life that existed in that place and to recognise the special quality of each person's home and each property," she said. "If they make a choice to recreate somewhere else, they have a kind of archaeological record of what they had before."