Google's Street View imaging project recently returned to northern Japan to capture more images of the destruction left by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake that decimated the region.
"Two years ago we launched an initiative using Street View to digitally archive the 2011 tsunami and earthquake-affected areas in Northeastern Japan," wrote Kei Kawai, group product manager for Street View, in a Sept. 4 post on the Google Lat Long Blog. "Since then, we've captured 360-degree panoramas of the region, including the town of Namie-machi in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone and over 70 interiors of devastated buildings across the Tohoku region."
The new photo updates include Street View imagery for 17 cities within the Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures that had not been photographed previously by the Street View cameras, he wrote. "By releasing this new imagery on Google Maps, 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."
The project "aims not only to make a record of the disaster's wreckage, but also to illustrate the process of Japan's recovery," wrote Kawai. "Towards that goal, we've driven our Street View cars throughout the Tohoku region again over the past months."
An early Street View project came in December 2011 when Google created a special "Build the Memory" or "Memories of the Future" Website to document photographs of the devastation and the areas as they were before the carnage. Those photos were collected beginning in July 2011 along more than 27,000 miles across affected regions of Japan.
"We recognize that the previously collected imagery has emotional and documentary value, so we're going to continue making this imagery available to users on our Memories of the Future site," wrote Kawai."Starting today, people will be able to see 360-degree images of what these cities within the Tohoku region looked like before the tsunami and right after the tsunami, as well as what they look like today."
New images of previously undocumented areas within the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, including the abandoned towns Ōkuma and Futaba, are also now added to the latest Street View images, he wrote. "This includes roads near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, and in the new imagery, you can see the entrance to the plant on Street View."
There is still so much work to be done in the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the region, he wrote, but progress can be seen through the images. "In just two years, the affected areas in Northeastern Japan have already started to slowly improve and will continue to do so as the recovery continues," he wrote "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."
Back in March 2013, a Street View crew gathered and released a collection of haunting images of the Japanese town of Namie-machi. The photos were taken to document the evacuated town two years after radiation leaked from a nearby nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. The Google Street View team had returned to Japan for the two-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, taking stark photographs of a city about 12 miles from the heavily damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, which spread its radiation across a wide area.
Namie-machi, which before the disaster was a city of about 21,000 people, remains a ghost town since it was evacuated after the earthquake and tsunami. That Street View project provided photographs in areas that were generally off limits due to the dangerous radiation that was released from the damaged nuclear plant.