Photographing a nuclear evacuation zone
Athit Perawongmetha's self-portrait was taken inside the Fukushima evacuation zone in Japan.
April 14th, 2011
02:14 PM ET

Photographing a nuclear evacuation zone

A “time stop.” That’s what photographer Athit Perawongmetha found when he entered the Fukushima evacuation zone to document the ghost town left behind in the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan. The traffic lights were still on and air conditioners were running, but there were no people. “The city is untouchable. Everything I see is like a dream,” he said.

Perawongmetha documented the scene with his camera, taking photos of the destruction from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's cooling systems, leaving operators with no way to keep the three operational reactors from overheating after they shut down.

He came back with photos of empty streets, abandoned houses left open, cats and dogs forsaken by their owners, and shoes left in a doorway, waiting for their owners’ return - but no people.

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On April 6, the first day of his journey into Fukushima, Perawongmetha did not see a single person.

Using only a mask as protection from the radiation, he and his travel companions used GPS to explore the area within the 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) evacuation zone. On the second day inside the zone, April 7, they did not realize how close they were to the plant. When they looked at a map later that night, they realized they were five kilometers (three miles) from the nuclear plant.

The next day, Perawongmetha went with his friends to a radiation screening center to be tested. Their levels were within the acceptable range despite how close they came to the plant. After learning that his radiation levels were OK, Perawongmetha said he wanted to return.

On Monday, Perawongmetha went inside the evacuation zone for the third time. This time he was not taking any chances; he wore a full protective suit and mask.  He went within 1.5 kilometers (one mile) of the plant, closer than he had ever been.

Perawongmetha said he decided to go “to see something inside because all the press didn’t go inside before.”

He said the crisis has given him a great respect for the Japanese.

“I thought that the Japanese people kept very calm ... and (didn't) panic with the thing that happened,” he said. “They keep their feelings inside; they try to stay very quiet and wait for some help.”

Perawongmetha is from Bangkok, Thailand. He arrived in Japan on March 21. It was his first time in Japan and his first assignment covering an earthquake or tsunami.

“It is quite sad about these things happening in Japan,” Perawongmetha said. “This is a real big crisis for Japan. I hope that Japan will come back soon, like they came back after World War II."

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Japan • World
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Jazzzzzzzz

    The images are nothing less than eye opening. To see a corps or streets with a gap miles deep...dogs fending for themeselves. You have to have a strong stomach for this kinda work. It's worth it though to show how good we TRUELY have it here. The good photo jounalist go in when no one else will, hat off to you Perwongmetha.

    April 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tbabe

    Is there not an organization to go and take care of these animals? If nothing else, do the humane thing and put them out of their misery......before the radiation does.

    April 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy

    Sad. Just...sad. Poor Japan! What devastation. My heart hurts for the country as a whole.

    April 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Biz

    The eyes are one of the most vulnerable parts of the body when it comes to radioactivity, or so we were taught in radiation safety officer's course. Looks like whoever gave him that suit forgot some parts, but that seems par for the course in this crisis. Probably be a good idea to put some goggles on buddy. Just sayin'.

    April 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cheesekun

    Poor puppies 🙁

    April 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cheryl

    what is happening to those poor animals?

    April 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cesar

    Well Cheryl, I guess they are scared, waiting for their owners, thirsty, having nightmares, losing weight, and starving. You're question has such a valid point.

    April 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Grigory Dashevsky

    In the future the technical progress will kill people...But nobody want return to the past...

    April 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazzzzzzzz

      So our demise will techology , Hmmm, yes I miss the simple life when I didnt know .... yes I do think igonorance is bliss at times. Am I making sense? Radiation , preservatives ,cells phones and the list goes on.

      April 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Darren Beatty

    Athit Perawongmetha, a true photographer, on any scale. These photos were deeply moving. Thank you.

    April 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jill spisak

    I would like to organize some dog and cat food to get to the closed areas where there are animals desperate for help. Is there anyone who will respond to this with some access for distribution if I can organize the rest of it? Please respond. thanks!

    April 14, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill

    The person that remarked I wish it happened here is a idiot.

    April 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. raven

    The American Humane Society has a fund set up and so does Worldvets. there are many others but I have worked with those two and they are both on the up and up.

    April 14, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. raven

    @bill, I agree .as if there isnt enough suffering ( animal AND human) without someone WISHING it so.

    April 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. why u crying white people?

    poor white people they are all crying , we the beautiful people of color are to blame for their misery, oh, baby, don't cry. The hell with you white people!!

    April 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |

      My son is half black half white. Some one once said he looks spanish and I told him I only see my son , I can't see anything else. I love and would kill and or die for him and yes I am white. Pls try for ONE DAY to look at ppl throw GODS eyes. That is how he sees us , throw LOVE, NOT COLOR . Having said that GOD made all colors perfectly. Black is beautiful white is beautiful , it's just the person who makes it ugly.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      That is correct. We need to stop looking at peoples color. The only way for us to get beyond color is to stop seeing it. As you say "start seeing each other through Gods eyes". Questions about race should be removed from all employment applications. Hire people based on their skills and not because you need to meet some stupid quota. Anything that favors one person over another because of race needs to be done away with. The question of race should never be asked when applying to a college. Take only those who are smart enough and deserve to be there. ou want the world to be color blind, then stop making race a factor.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Common Sense

    Do you really think they will send in dog food, when they refused to send in food and water to the humans who were left behind? Hummmm!

    April 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
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