The mayor of one of Japan’s “ghost towns” invited Google to show the world what the town as been reduced to

Visitors to Google Maps can now roam virtually through the overgrown streets of an abandoned town where time has stood still since a tsunami crippled Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant two years ago.

The Internet giant's mapping site is offering views of the deserted streets of Namie, half of which sits within the 20-kilometre no-go zone around the nuclear plant.

What happened there?

In 2011, a tsunami crashed into Japan, killing nearly 19,000 people.

The cooling systemsof the nuclear plant were knocked out by the wall of water, three reactors melted down, spewing radioactive particles into the air, soil and sea and forcing Namie's entire population of 21,000 to flee.

The entrance ban will be lifted for a small part of the town from Monday next week, allowing residents to visit for a short time, but the vast majority remains highly contaminated and is expected to be uninhabitable for years.

“The world is moving on to the future after the disaster... but time has stopped in the town of Namie,” said Mayor Tamotsu Baba.

“I hope these street views will show the people of future generations what the great earthquake and nuclear disaster brought,” he said.

The only way to see home again

“The town requested special approval for the Google crew to enter the zone,” the official said. “The crew wore protective gear and stayed inside the car while shooting.”

The technology pieces together digital images captured by Google’s fleet of camera-equipped vehicles and allows viewers to take virtual tours of locations around the world, including faraway spots like the South Pole and fantastic landscapes like the Grand Canyon.

Mayor Baba, who asked Google to come into his town, said he wanted the world to see what it looked like and wanted those who had been forced out to be able to virtually visit the places they grew up.

“Even two years after the disaster, we cannot walk into Namie freely,” the mayor said. “Many people from the town say they want to see what state their hometown is in now.

What will you see?

Some parts of the town were swamped by the waves of March 11. Houses and other buildings damaged by the water can be clearly seen as site visitors click through the panoramic displays.

Many of the buildings in the town are intact, tinged only by the invisible menace of radiation and abandoned when the sudden order to evacuate came two years ago.

Barber shops and hairdressers still display their welcome signs, offering haircuts to customers who may never return. The images come from a heavily polluted part of the town, where residents are not allowed to venture, a town official said.

Tens of thousands of people in the area were forced from their homes by the nuclear catastrophe, the worst the planet has seen since the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl.Agencies

The Street View function can be accessed through the map, which can be found here:

http://goo.gl/VbxDY