Interactive: Japan before and after the disaster

These aerial photos show locations in Japan before and after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11. Use the slider below the images to reveal the changes in the landscape.

updated 3/14/2011 8:04:30 AM ET 2011-03-14T12:04:30

NASA satellites have snapped new pictures of the devastating floods and fires in Japan from the deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck the country on Friday.

Photos from NASA's Earth-watching Terra and Aqua satellites paint a stark picture from above of the damage by the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami it spawned. They show Japan's northern region, particularly the city of Sendai — which is visible inundated by floodwaters and fires in the satellite views.

The images were taken today (March 12) — one day after the natural disaster as part of NASA's MODIS Rapid Response system, which uses satellites to provide near real-time images of Earth's landmasses every day. The system can snap photos of Japan twice a day, NASA officials said. [Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in Pictures]

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The photo from NASA's Aqua satellite was taken at 2:46 p.m. Local Japan Time and shows a dark plume of smoke emanating from the Sendai region. The black smoke can be seen blowing far out to sea. Scientists used the Aqua satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, to generate the photo-like view.

"Clouds prevented MODIS from identifying the location of the fire within the city, however this type of black smoke usually originates from oil or gas files," wrote NASA's Holli Riebeek of the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in a statement. According to news reports, a refinery was set ablaze in the Sendai region after the earthquake struck. [Aqua satellite photo of Japan quake aftermath]

The Aqua satellite image also shows clouds of blue and green sediment along the coastline of Japan, which may be mud or other debris churned up by the powerful tsunami waves, NASA officials said.

Video: Death toll rises amid Japan disaster (on this page)

NASA's Terra satellite snapped photos earlier in the day at 10:30 a.m. Local Japan Time — before the Aqua views — and reveal extensive flooding along Japan's northeastern coast. Like the Aqua satellite, Terra used its MODIS instrument to record the tsunami damage. [Terra satellite photo of Japan tsunami flooding]

The floodwaters appear in dark blue or black and stretch well inland of the coastline when compared with another Terra image taken on Feb. 26, before the earthquake.

"MODIS detected a fire burning near the shore north of Sendai," Riebeek wrote, adding that the fire is noted with a red box in the image. "It is also surrounded by floods."

The March 11 quake was the largest ever recorded in Japan and is the world's fifth largest earthquake to strike since 1900, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Video: Japanese race to cool at-risk nuke plants (on this page)

The epicenter of the earthquake was 231 miles (373 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo and 80 miles (130 km) east of Sendai, Honshu, according to the USGS.

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Video: Death toll rises amid Japan disaster

  1. Closed captioning of: Death toll rises amid Japan disaster

    >> begin with the latest on the unfolding situation in japan . we have several reports starting with ann curry who is in the hard hit region of miyogi. good morning, ann.

    >> reporter: good morning. i'm in a city called minamisanriku. it is one of the most devastated towns in the most affected region of this epic disaster in japan . and four days after the quake and tsunami, this area is barely reached by the outside world . [ screaming ]

    >> reporter: nbc news obtained this home video of the tsunami as it struck the coastal fishing village of minamisanriku, considered one of the hardest hit. where 10,000 of 17,000 residents are missing. it is a city obliterated. and heartbroken. hiromi hirayuchi can't find six members of her family. another eyewitness video shows the power of the wave as it engulfed the coastal city of miyako. the destruction is so widespread and sudden the prime minister is calling this japan 's gravest crisis since world war ii . [ speaking in a foreign language ]

    >> reporter: this is a nation on edge. hit with more than 1,000 aftershocks which sounded the alarms in sendai repeatedly this weekend. they're yelling at us saying a tsunami is coming right now. they are yelling at everybody to get out of the way. we're leaving the area. tsunami alarms are so frequent, even emergency crews lost count. add to that the quake impacted nuclear power plants .

    >> the nuclear and safety industrial agency said an explosion occurred in the number 3 building of the reactor around 11:00 a.m . japan time on monday.

    >> reporter: now, more than 180,000 people have been evacuated from around the plant which has released some radiation. more than 60 nations have pledged aid, sending in 13 rescue teams including from europe and china on sunday. u.s. teams are already on the ground searching. the u.s. navy has dispatched eight warships.

    >> we are here to help protect the japanese people .

    >> reporter: the u.s.s. ronald reagan arrived on sunday to bring in supplies by helicopter. in the midst of so much destruction, there is hope. floating for two days, this 60-year-old was found alive, clinging to the roof of his house, nearly ten miles out to sea. survivors on a rooftop saw signs of life in the debris, and three elderly people who were trapped for 20 hours in a car were saved. even here, someone was found alive in rubble today. though this town has been virtually destroyed a woman said to me today, "we will be strong, we will rebuild." meredith?

    >> positive thoughts in the midst of such devastation. besides the aftershocks, there are reports of hundreds of thousands without food, water, electricity, heat and now the threat of radiation exposure . how are people coping with this?

    >> reporter: it's very difficult. people are standing in long lines for food, fresh water , for gas just to get around. the hotels are closed down. electricity is down. people are coping by leaning on each other. we found that true in this hardest hit region. people have established evacuation centers and schools. in other places, sleeping together in classrooms, sharing food. really it's been a matter of people helping each other. the outside help has not yet arrived. they are relying on each other as long as the meager food rations they have will last, meredith.

    >> you talk about people standing in lines. i have noticed they are patiently standing in line. there is almost a sense of order there. often after a natural disaster there are stories of looting. you don't hear about that in japan now. does that surprise you?

    >> reporter: you're absolutely right. you usually hear those stories. i'm not surprised because i have lived in japan . my father's in the military. order is a word you can use to describe the character of the japanese people . we have seen no examples of any kind of looting. we have seen however a kind of stillicism. there are people who have been traumatized. yet there is a resilience and even people smiling through tears, trying to move on, look toward the future. that's the impression we have been getting as we meet the people. we have more reporting on that coming up.

    >> and the rescue workers who are beginning to pour into the country, how are they dealing with the massive effort in front of them?

    >> reporter: you know, largely they are struggling gettinging into place. the roads are often blocked or the traffic is really paralyzed. the trains are down. the planes are not landing in the upper region, largely because there is a lot of concern about tsunamis and also because of aftershocks. there have been so many aftershocks. and other subsequent earthquakes. the difficulty is just to get here. it takes hours and hours. that's one of the reasons why aid has yet to arrive. the good news is we are starting to see signs of the outside world beginning to reach them. i suspect if not today, tomorrow, the next day, we'll see a major arrival of outside aid based on what we are hearing from the agencies we have been dealing with.

    >> ann curry , thank you very

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