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Eerie pictures show untouched Fukushima 'exclusion zone' as photographer risks safety to sneak into nuclear disaster site
Posted on July 15, 2016 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS MAGAZINE
Photographer Keow Wee Loong captured the images of the highly radioactive ghost towns five years after the tragedy.
A photographer has shared haunting images of the abandoned Fukushima earthquake 'exclusion zone' after risking his safety to sneak into the disaster site.
Wearing a gas mask but no other protective clothing Keow Wee Loong visited four of the evacuated towns in Fukushima - Tomioka, Okuma, Namie and Futaba - in June this year.
Lying completely untouched since March 2011, the city of Fukushima was evacuated suddenly after the east coast of Japan was devastated by a massive earthquake followed by a huge tsunami.
The 27-year-old's images give an eerie insight into the panic that followed the disaster.
They show a city stuck in time as calendars remain on the same date, families' clean washing is half-removed from driers and newspapers remain forever unsold.
Inside the abandoned Fukushima earthquake 'exclusion zone
Houses and shops were abandoned during the disaster
Malaysian-born Loong said: "The residents of these three towns in the red exclusion zone left so quickly they didn't even pack or take anything valuable with them.
"If you visit any boutique or shopping mall in these towns, you will see the merchandise exactly where it was since 2011, nothing has been changed or moved."
On March 11, 2011, a 50ft wave swamped the sea wall at the Fukushima power plant, sparking equipment failures and allowing radioactive materials to escape - triggering the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The daredevil rummages through an abandoned laundrette
Loong found apocalyptic scenes left behind
Towns and villages housing hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated as a major nuclear event was declared and a 12.5-mile no-go 'red zone' put into place.
Keow, who was joined by friends Sherena Ng and Koji Hori, added: "I even found money laying around the pachinko parlour, books dating back to 2011, gold and other valuables all still in place.
"Fukushima is like an untouched ghost town."
The exclusion zone is still out of bounds five years on
Book shops remain untouched
Due to the high level of radiation, the adventurers only had a limited amount of time to explore all four towns and had to wear gas masks to protect themselves from the contaminated air.
Keow said: "The radiation level in the red zone could go as high as 4.8mSv - 6.5 mSv according to the reading on the electronic signboard on the road.
"Upon arrival in the red zone, I could smell chemical and felt a burning sensation in my eyes."
The pictures have an eerie quality.
A calendar lies untouched from the date of the disaster
Magazines left as mementos of a time before the disaster
The urban explorers entered the so-called 'red zone' - the site of maximum radiation - in the middle of the night to avoid being caught by the police.
He said: "Due to high level of radiation the town was filled with police so we had limited amount of time to explore everything in all four towns, we entered the red exclusion zone in the dark around 1am, to avoid attention from the cops."
Shops have remained untouched ever since
Evidence shows how the area was abandoned at a moment's notice
Personal mementos were found left behind
Among the locations Keow explored during his time there was an empty mall with shops full of merchandise dating back to 2011 - a reminder of the 150,000 people that were forced to leave the area following the disaster.
He said: "When I walked into the mall I felt an eerie silence, like time had frozen.
"The mall was completely empty with no people in it but all the merchandise in place and I could explore anywhere I wanted."
Cars are left amongst overgrown weeds since 2011
Inside the abandoned Fukushima earthquake 'exclusion zone'
Shops are as they were left when disaster struck
"I always had a childhood dream of going into a mall alone when it is empty, so my dream came true, it was like deja vu, everything is exactly the way it is since 2011, the books marked with 2011, DVD movies of 2011.
"This was one of the creepiest things I have ever seen, I have been to many places, but nothing like Fukushima, the traffic lights are still operating but there are no cars around.
"It all reminded me of the movie I Am Legend, like stepping foot into a post-apocalyptic city."