Google Earth reveals damage extent of Japan earthquake

By David Jacobson, Temblor

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The town of Mashiki in the Kumamoto Prefecture suffered significant damage in the earthquakes. Houses with blue roofs are where damage occurred and repairs are underway.

In April, Kumamoto, Japan was devastated by a series of large earthquakes. Events began on April 15th with a Mw=6.2 earthquake, which was followed 28 hours later by an extremely destructive Mw=7.0 quake. At Temblor, we posted two blogs about the Kumamoto earthquakes, both right after the events, and more recently in which new discoveries were highlighted.

While shocking images were seen almost immediately following the earthquakes, Google Earth recently updated 3D imagery for parts of the region, allowing for a virtual tour of the destruction. From the imagery, damaged houses can easily be spotted, as a large proportion have their roofs covered with light blue tarps.

Damaged houses within the city of Mashiki are clearly visible by their blue roofs.

Once you zoom in to these areas and tilt the imagery to reveal 3D buildings, the true extent of damage can still be seen. Blue roofs litter the town, and destroyed buildings are clearly visible. This is not the first time Google Earth has done this. Similar projects were undertaken following the 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake, and more recently, imagery was updated for parts of Italy following the deadly 23 August 2016 Italy earthquake.

While many destroyed buildings in Kumamoto are not visible in Google Earth, damaged houses are still easy to spot because of the blue tarps which cover their roofs.

Google Earth
Google Earth Blog

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  • Ross Stein

    Looking closely at the first photo, one sees a lot of damage–even roof damage–that is not covered by a blue tarp, so perhaps the percentage of tarps provides an underestimate of the total, although it still confers a great spatial mapping tool of the damage distribution and density.

  • Dave Hora

    That sounds right. People put tarps on buildings where repair or salvage is possible. Large or thoroughly destroyed structures are much less likely to show up on the blue-map.