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As the fears over contamination from the Fukushima nuclear plant’s damaged reactors continue to grow, Google has released a new set of panoramic images from parts of Japan which were the worst hit by the 2011 tsunami. In a bid to acknowledge both the scale of the disaster and the effort which has gone into rebuilding the country, it hasn’t simply replaced older images with this year’s batch — it’s added them its Memories of the Future site so its users can compare the views before and after the tsunami and earthquake.
These new images are an update to the shots the StreetView team obtained in 2011, and cover 17 cities within the country’s Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, making it possible to compare older images before the disaster with shots the immediate aftermath and the development that’s gone on in the years since then. For example, you can see side-by-side shots of Japan’s Tohoku region, which demonstrate how debris has been removed, houses and shopping malls have disappeared, river banks have been raised, and sundry fishing ships removed from parking lots. In one case, you can see how a building went from a functioning hospital to a wreck post-tsunami and was later wiped from the map entirely.
The StreetView team has also managed to capture the roads leading up to the entrance of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, as well as the nearby settlements of Ōkuma and Futaba which have largely turned into overgrown ghost towns since they were evacuated following the radiation concerns.
Group Product Manager for StreetView, Kei Kawai, explains that Google is cataloguing this imagery to help preserve the memory of the towns before the destruction and show the world how much has changed since then. “We hope people in Japan and from all around the world can virtually explore what these towns currently look like and better understand how local governments are working on rebuilding residents’ homes and lives,” he says. “We hope that providing this new street-level imagery on Google Maps can make the memories of the disaster relevant and palpable for future generations.”