Yesterday, Google fulfilled a months-old promise to bring Google Street View imagery to the northeastern areas of Japan impacted by the March 11th tsunami.
In addition to the 360-degree, panoramic photos that are Google Street View's hallmark, Google has set up a special site called "Build the Memory" that lets users easily see before-and-after images of towns affected by the devastation.
In its official blog entry, Google explains why it had its Street View teams drive the 44,000 kilometres for this project:
In the case of the post-tsunami imagery of Japan, we hope this particular digital archiving project will be useful to researchers and scientists who study the effects of natural disasters. We also believe that the imagery is a useful tool for anyone around the world who wants to better understand the extent of the damage. Seeing the street-level imagery of the affected areas puts the plight of these communities into perspective and ensures that the memories of the disaster remain relevant and tangible for future generations.
Google suggests a virtual travel route in that same blog: start inland and head towards the coast, and you'll start to see piles of rubble and debris, even as you start to see empty lots where buildings once stood in the cities. Every Street View image - in Japan and elsewhere - now bears a timestamp of when the photo was taken, and in this case, it just highlights how quickly it all happened.