Google Maps adds Japan tsunami destruction to 'Street View'

On Monday, Google unveiled its latest innovation, GoogleDisasterTour. Or so you might call the latest bundle of Google Maps "street view" images, which show the utter destruction of Japanese neighborhoods following the history-rocking March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The search giant had pledged earlier this year to document the aftermath of the catastrophe as a service to scientists and historians as well as the general public, who might not yet have comprehended the extent of the damage. Camera-toting vans chugged over 27,340 miles of northeast Japan, snapping 360-degree vistas of browned land that looks as if a colossal lawnmower had taken a whack at it. The images are also housed on a site called "Memories for the Future" (alternatively, "Build the Memory"), where you can switch between photos taken before and after the giant wave passed through. It's truly awful.

Here's what Google's Kei Kawai had to say about the project on the company's Lat Long blog:

A virtual tour via Street View profoundly illustrates how much these natural disasters have transformed these communities. If you start inland and venture out toward the coast, you’ll see the idyllic countryside change dramatically, becoming cluttered with mountains of rubble and debris as you get closer to the ocean. In the cities, buildings that once stood proud are now empty spaces.

In the bottom left corner of each image you’ll also see a month and year that tells you when a particular photograph was taken. When looking at images of the magnificent cities side-by-side with images of the ruins left in their place, this additional context demonstrates how truly life-changing this tragedy has been for those who live there and witnessed the destruction of their homes, neighborhoods and even entire districts.

So, are you ready to drive through the wastes? Let's go.

Here's what Watari, south of Sendai, looks like:

Not much to work with there. Another shot of the same area reveals piles of rubble awaiting transport to the dump:

Wait, that's not rubble. THIS is rubble, from Onagawa:

A before shot of an Onagawan street:

And the same road from after:

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Google did a pretty good job covering the communities affected by this titanic disaster. But there's one place its vans didn't go. Note the black hole in coverage around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, located on the eastern coast between Soma and Iwaki. That area might not be canvassed for a very long time: