On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the country. The earthquake sparked a tsunami, which did further damage. After the earthquake, the active reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant shut down their fission reactions. Unfortunately, the tsunami that followed the earthquake disabled the emergency generators that were used to cool the reactors. Without the cooling, the reactors melted down and caused multiple explosions, releasing radioactive material into the area.
This nuclear meltdown that occurred is the greatest since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the only other disaster to receive a Level 7 classification. Of course, the surrounding area was immediately evacuated to prevent any casualties. There were no direct casualties as a result of the nuclear meltdown, but an estimated 1,600 deaths occurred over the course of the evacuation. Many of the effects of the radiation may not be seen for years to come.
The towns surrounding the exclusion zone (the evacuated areas) were left without thought. What’s left of these places is a ghost town that gives the impression that humanity just vanished. Here are 15 chilling photos taken of that area since the disaster.
15. Dilapidated Housing
More than five years after the tsunami struck Japan, forcing towns full of people away from their homes, virtually everything is still exactly where it was when people left it. Some of the buildings, though, show what happens when humans aren’t around to take care of them.
The building to the right in this picture is falling, with the one on the left not far behind. It’s unclear what these buildings were used for, but whatever purpose they served is in the past. Now, they only serve as a stark reminder of what humanity’s work looks like after the humans leave. Buildings like these are why the towns surrounding Fukushima get their name ‘ghost towns’. Nature is taking over and ruling in the place of humans in these areas.
14. Time Standing Still
Time is all about how we mark it, and when there’s no people around to pass the days, time virtually stands still. In the exclusion zone around Fukushima, it is perpetually March of 2011. The earthquake that caused the tsunami took place on March 11 of that year and devastated a sizable portion of Japan. Those around the nuclear site, Fukushima, were all forced to evacuate and take only the necessities. This calendar signifies that the place is now lost in time.
Until it is deemed suitable to return to the areas around Fukushima (if it ever is), it will be March of 2011 in the areas that were affected by this disaster. In the exclusion zone, the danger has taken control and stopped the flow of time as humankind knows it.
13. Left Behind
People were truly in a panic when the time came for them to evacuate the areas that could be affected by the leaking radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant. They took the bare essentials, and in many cases, that involved leaving their pets behind to fend for themselves.
In this photo, a cat can be seen behind a glass window, perhaps waiting for its owner to come home. This photo was taken about a month after the chaos of the evacuation, but this cat is still waiting for someone to come around. While a few photographers have been able to gain access to the area, it is unlikely that any former residents came back for their pets. Hopefully this little guy was able to find some food and fend for himself.
12. Stocked Shelves
Unlike Chernobyl and other similar disasters, there is virtually no evidence of looting in the exclusion zone. Stores still sit with fully-stocked shelves with trash strewn about the floor of the place. This is what a store looks like when people just pick up and leave without rummaging through the lost stores. They call this area a ghost town for a reason, and it’s because there’s no evidence that people left. It’s as if they disappeared.
In this photo, Keow Wee Loong, one of the few photographers brave enough to sneak into the affected areas can be seen with a basket, as if he’s shopping for household items. Only, he has a gas mask to help protect him from any radiation (not that it will do all that much).
11. Horses Left For Dead
This sad photo shows the inside of a stable in Odaka after the earthquake and subsequent evacuation of the area. Horses were left in their stables with no way to get out, and this picture shows two dead horses and a third with little hope of survival.
When the evacuation order came through, there was no time to take anything but the clothes on people’s backs. Unfortunately, this meant leaving most of the animals of the area to take care of themselves. For these horses, who likely had no way to escape their barn, this meant certain death. No one was coming back to feed them or let them roam, which meant that it was only a matter of time until these horses met their fate. These two had died less than a month after the evacuation.
10. Ghostly Train Tracks
This photo shows the train tracks in a surrounding town that are no longer used by any trains. The area surrounding the nuclear meltdown is far too toxic for anything to pass through, leaving these train tracks abandoned and unused. The lights still flash, but there is no train to heed their warnings.
Only five years ago, these train tracks would have been in daily use, with trains carrying goods and people passing through these areas. They now sit idly and lonely with no trains passing over them. This is another eerie reminder of the lack of civilization in this area. There is no one but this photographer for miles in either direction, walking the abandoned train tracks with no life but nature poking through.
9. Searching For The Survivors
While most of the population of the towns in the exclusion zone left when the evacuations started, the police force was tasked with searching for victims and survivors of the massive earthquake and tsunami. While everyone else was running for safety, these officers went in the other direction to try to bring back anyone who may have survived. A month after the tsunami and earthquake hit, there were few (if any) survivors left to be found.
In this photo, the team of police officers can be seen loading one of the victims into a van. They are all fully clothed in radioactive-protective gear as they search, but these suits likely serve as perceived protection rather than actual protection. Many of these men were probably exposed to the radiation that is present in this area.
8. Buildings Crumbling
The earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country of Japan left many buildings in ruin, which were left to crumble further when the people of those areas were evacuated. The devastation left in the wake of this natural disaster can still be seen on the face of many of the towns that were eventually left behind due to the dangerous radiation levels.
In the case of many natural disasters and man-made disasters, rebuilding usually takes place soon after the area is cleared. Over five years after the tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan, these buildings were left as they were. Weeds are beginning to push through the cracks, unchecked by humans, and the buildings were left in whatever state they were in before the evacuation.
7. Homes Left In Shambles
When the earthquake and tsunami hit, it ravaged the homes of many in the area. For those who were able to seek refuge in their homes, the subsequent nuclear meltdown forced them all away from the towns where they lived. There was no time to clean up or take anything that wasn’t essential, leaving many homes in shambles with belongings strewn about.
Pieces of the ceilings were falling and cabinets were left open. There are still some items in many of these homes, as if they were raided and left behind to rot. There was very little looting in these areas, much unlike other disasters of this magnitude, but homes were still left in the ruin they found themselves in after the natural disasters that rocked the country.
6. Toiletries Left
Very little looting took place when the evacuation orders came down, as people were more concerned with exiting safely than bringing anything they may need. Unfortunately, the evacuation conditions were very underwhelming and these led to the deaths of many people who ended up leaving the areas. It may have been a good idea to take some of the essentials, but the first priority was getting out of the range of the radiation.
In this store, much of the stock can be seen sitting on the shelves, untouched. Toothbrushes and mouthwashes sit unopened, with the deals shouting at nonexistent customers. Tooth care was not a priority for many of those who fled, and the corner stores and supermarkets saw much of their stock remain on the shelves as people passed to their final destination.
5. Abandoned Entertainment
When grocery stores are left with food still on the shelves, it’s a safe bet that entertainment stores will be even less of a focus for those looking to take what they need before they run. This DVD/CD store looks as if it’s been untouched since the disaster that took place over five years before this picture was taken.
Keow Wee Loong, the photographer that captured many of the photos on this list, can be seen browsing DVDs in a gas mask as if nothing had taken place. There is no place for this type of entertainment in the apocalyptic world of the exclusion zone. This photo really shows that the entertainment industry is the first to be neglected when real disastrous events take place. Apart from a few pieces of trash, there is no evidence that this place was even abandoned.
4. An Evacuated Evacuation Zone
The chilling image shows an abandoned evacuation center in Minamisoma. The picture was taken on April 7, 2011, less than a month after the tragedy struck the area. Trash, chairs, coffee cups, and makeshift lines can be seen left behind by the evacuees fleeing the radiation that was leaking into their environment.
It’s weird to think of the middle-ground of evacuation. The people who took shelter here were only able to stop at this location for a little bit before being evacuated once again. Much like many of the other photos on this list, the residents didn’t worry about picking up after themselves, as safety was their only priority. It is likely that many of those seeking shelter deduced that they’d never see this place again.
3. Everything Stopped
The exclusion zone around the Fukushima Nuclear plant is a bit like The Leftovers, a show that details the aftermath of the departure of 2% of the world’s population. It’s as if entire towns disappeared, with people leaving everything they were doing just as it was. Even in the laundromat, some people didn’t pack up their clothes before departing for a safer place.
This image of a dryer with the clothes piling out tells the story of a person leaving so frantically that they didn’t even take their clothes. Taking the essentials is one thing, but leaving an entire crop of clothes tells of the serious and imminent danger these people were running from. The person washing clothes didn’t even feel as though there was enough time to pack up and leave.
2. Traffic Lights With No Traffic
Barriers are put up to try to prevent people from entering the areas with high radiation levels. But a few photographers have been able to get through and take pictures of the ghost town. Five years after the disaster, traffic lights and electricity still run through the towns, though there is no one home to utilize them.
The traffic lights can be seen to still be working in this photo, again, over five years after it was abandoned. It’s as if there is no one left to tell these traffic lights that they are no longer needed. They go on patrolling traffic as if nothing had happened, but there is nothing left to patrol. The lights are like so many things in these towns, left completely as they were, like everyone disappeared one day (in a sense, they did).
1. Nature Taking Over
With no people to take care of the areas in the exclusion zone, nature has begun to take control of the area. Where there was once parking lots with no vegetation, weeds can be seen popping up through the cracks and threatening to take over entire lots. Cars are left, abandoned, with their owners fleeing far away from any area that could be home to deadly levels of radiation.
In the top of the above photo, a street light can be seen starting to decay, as the vegetation around it grows more prominent. Streets full of cars are all that’s left, signifying the great departure that these towns made after the tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown. This picture was taken only five years after everyone left. It makes a person wonder what another five years will do to this place.