The 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, forced over 150,000 people to evacuate their homes.
Five years later, many people are still unable to return due to dangerously high radiation levels in the area.
In the coastal areas affected by the tsunami, the devastation was obvious and profound.
In some places in the nuclear exclusion zone, however, many homes and businesses remain standing, heartbreaking reminders of the lives people left behind when they fled.
1. Despite the devastation, some sets of power lines are still standing, along with many buildings.
2. An abandoned street in Namie, Japan.
3. Another street corner. The vending machines are still stocked.
4. A coffee shop with a van parked in front.
5. A car, still in good condition, buried under plant growth.
6. An empty school hallway. The bulletin board still has posters hanging on it.
7. Roadside businesses. The stalls are still standing, but the merchandise is gone.
8. A house with its satellite dish still set up.
9. The outside of a local store with its vending machines also still stocked.
10. A child’s bike, partially buried.
11. A deserted home, moderately damaged. Its surroundings have been leveled.
12. A child’s swing, still standing in a park.
13. A big stuffed animal, a tray full of dishes, a laundry basket, and other hastily abandoned items.
14. Laundry left hanging on a line.
15. A window with five years of plant growth both inside and out.
16. Trucks in a parking lot. Shrubbery has completely claimed the bed of the one on the far left.
17. A pile of irradiated wood cleared by workers in Okuna, Japan.
18. Toys and masks inside the window of a home.
19. A sign advertising pachinko at a nearby business.
20. A Hello Kitty doll, a chair, and a piano inside an abandoned home.
21. A house with its garage left open.
22. Another house whose air conditioning unit has fallen out of the window.
23. A stopped clock.
24. A home in the middle of a field. You can still see the solar panels on top.
25. A statue in graveyard.
26. A car in an overgrown downtown parking lot.
27. A rearview mirror, still attached to a buried car.
28. More personal items. Some cups and decorative pots.
29. A radiation monitoring station in the front yard of a house on the highway.
30. A large garage.
31. A tiny figurine left hanging inside a home.
People fleeing crises like these — natural disasters or otherwise — deserve our support, whether or not they have homes to go back to.
Even though a time may come when the area is once again relatively safe, for many former residents of the exclusion zone, the memory of the tragedy makes going back seem unimaginable. It’s the same impossible choice faced by refugees and evacuees around the world fleeing from their war-torn home countries: risk returning to a dangerous, possibly deadly place or confront an unfamiliar and potentially unwelcoming new community.
No one wants to be forced to leave their entire life behind. For millions of people around the world, however, it’s unavoidable.
For those of us who live in relative safety, we should help those who can’t go home again build new lives among us.