Space photos show Japan's ground splitting open and mass destruction after a powerful 7.6-magnitude earthquake

  • On Monday, a powerful earthquake struck Japan, killing dozens and leaving thousands without power.

  • Satellite images show the destruction of hard-hit cities such as Suzu and Wajima.

  • You can see the destruction from space: capsized boats, decimated buildings, and giant fissures.

Satellite images show mass destruction to Japan's west coast and inner cities after a series of powerful earthquakes hit the country on Monday.

Photo of a coastal town in Japan before and after a tsunami flooded it.
Before and after shots of homes along a coastline near Ukai.Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies

The Japan Meteorological Agency reported 21 earthquakes registering 4.0 magnitude or stronger striking central Japan in a span of just over an hour and a half. One quake was an estimated 7.6 magnitude quake, according to the JMA.

The event triggered tsunami warnings, which were eventually lifted. NHK, a Japanese public broadcaster, reported that some nearly 4-foot-high waves were seen in the city of Wajima and nearly 3-foot-high waves in Kanazawa.

The earthquake left thousands without power. Rescue teams continue to search for those trapped under the rubble.

On the left is an aerial view of a Japanese city before a major earthquake. On the right, is an aerial view of the same region after the earthquake, showing massive destruction to homes and roads.
Before and after space photos of burned and destroyed buildings in Wajima.Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies

Masuhiro Izumiya, the mayor of the town of Suzu, near the quake's epicenter, said 90% of houses might have been destroyed, Reuters reported.

"The situation is catastrophic," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Capsized boats and damaged buildings in Suzu City after a powerful earthquake hit Japan.
A satellite image of Suzu City shows capsized boats and damaged buildings. Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies.

The event was so powerful that the ground rose by more than 13 feet in some places and shifted more than 3 feet in others, the BBC reported.

The change was enough that even the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's ALOS-2 spacecraft measured the shift, recording that the distance between it and the ground had shortened, the BBC reported.

The left image shows a road in Japan destroyed by an earthquake. The right image is a satellite photo of a giant crack in the ground in Japan from the same earthquake.
A road destroyed by the earthquake and another giant fissure shown in a satellite image.ASSOCIATED PRESS (left) / Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies (right)

Monday's quake triggered aftershocks — which have continued into Wednesday — and NHK reported that it had so far killed at least 62 people. Rescue teams are still attempting to rescue people trapped under the rubble.

The event is being compared to Japan's 2011 9.0 magnitude earthquake. But that earthquake, which triggered nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima plant and killed 18,000 people, was far more destructive.

Part of the reason Japan's death toll is much lower than it was in 2011 — other than the magnitude of this earthquake being significantly lower — is because of the system that has been built around one of the most seismically active countries in the world, as the BBC reported. The country's emergency services are well prepared for earthquake rescues, buildings are built with strict guidelines to withstand shaking, and earthquake alerts can give people up to 20 seconds of notice before the worst tremors begin.

Countries that are much less prepared have seen devastating death tolls.

In Turkey and Syria, which were hit with a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in February 2023, more than 50,000 people died.

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake in Morocco in September 2023 killed more than 2,900 people and affected 2.8 million people.

A series of quakes in Afghanistan in October 2023, the highest magnitude being 6.3, killed 1,300 people and injured 1,700.

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