31 haunting photos of Fukushima 5 years after the nuclear disaster.

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.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

2. An abandoned street in Namie, Japan.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

3. Another street corner. The vending machines are still stocked.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

4. A coffee shop with a van parked in front.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

5. A car, still in good condition, buried under plant growth.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

6. An empty school hallway. The bulletin board still has posters hanging on it.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

7. Roadside businesses. The stalls are still standing, but the merchandise is gone.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

8. A house with its satellite dish still set up.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

9. The outside of a local store with its vending machines also still stocked.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

10. A child's bike, partially buried.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

11. A deserted home, moderately damaged. Its surroundings have been leveled.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

12. A child's swing, still standing in a park.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

13. A big stuffed animal, a tray full of dishes, a laundry basket, and other hastily abandoned items.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

14. Laundry left hanging on a line.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

15. A window with five years of plant growth both inside and out.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

16. Trucks in a parking lot. Shrubbery has completely claimed the bed of the one on the far left.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

17. A pile of irradiated wood cleared by workers in Okuna, Japan.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

18. Toys and masks inside the window of a home.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

19. A sign advertising pachinko at a nearby business.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

20. A Hello Kitty doll, a chair, and a piano inside an abandoned home.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

21. A house with its garage left open.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

22. Another house whose air conditioning unit has fallen out of the window.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

23. A stopped clock.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

24. A home in the middle of a field. You can still see the solar panels on top.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

25. A statue in graveyard.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

26. A car in an overgrown downtown parking lot.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

27. A rearview mirror, still attached to a buried car.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

28. More personal items. Some cups and decorative pots.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

29. A radiation monitoring station in the front yard of a house on the highway.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

30. A large garage.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

31. A tiny figurine left hanging inside a home.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

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.

True

Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Taking on chemotherapy is no easy task. Pile that onto losing smell, restricted breathing, and medical isolation, and anyone would want to throw in the towel. But for the ever optimistic Bridges, dealing with two health crises simultaneously became a beautiful life lesson, which he shared in a handwritten letter found on his website.


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