10 stunning side-by-side photos show just how destructive Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami were

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Higashimatsushima city in Miyagi prefecture in 2011 (left) and 2016 (right).
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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

March 2017 marks the six-year anniversary of Japan’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, a series of hydrogen explosions that were the worst since Chernobyl.

Though the nuclear disaster itself killed no one, the string of devastating events left more than 18,000 people dead, and over 100,000 people had to be evacuated from the area around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Below are 10 before-and-after images, taken in 2011 and in 2016, of the areas affected by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the resulting tsunami, and the power plant accident. The images shown on one side were taken shortly after the earthquake and tsunami, while those on the other were taken more recently, after five years of cleanup.


The earthquake started at 2:46 p.m. local time on March 11, 2011. The city of Kesennuma was completely wrecked by the resulting tsunami, bringing many large fishing boats ashore.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

It was less than an hour after the earthquake that the tsunami began wrecking havoc on the coast.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

Source: Live Science


The city of Natori in Miyagi prefecture was one of the worst-hit cities. Although Japan’s scientists had forecast a smaller quake, there were no predictions made of a tsunami to follow.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

Source: Live Science


Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture suffered from 42-foot high waves, and 1,700 people lost their lives.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

Source: The Japan Times


In some places, waves reached up to 128 feet.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

The waves destroyed tsunami seawalls built on some parts of the coast for protection.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

The town of Naraha was hit hard by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Between March 12 and 15, 2011, three major nuclear explosions occurred on site, as the tsunami caused a cooling system failure at that plant.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

Although closer to the epicenter of the earthquake than the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant had a protective 46-foot seawall that prevented severe flooding.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

In 2013, the Tokyo Electric Power Company reported that about 300 tons of radioactive water leaks into the Pacific Ocean everyday.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

The tsunami had world-wide effects, including breaking icebergs off the Sulzberger Ice Shelf in Antarctica, and causing large waves that reached Alaska, Hawaii, and Chile. The disaster is still having a lasting impact today, six years on.

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KYODO Kyodo/Reuters

Source: Live Science