3:53am

Fri March 9, 2012
The Picture Show

Before And After: Japan's Wreckage And Recovery

On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. (JST) Japan changed as a nation. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the largest to ever hit the island nation, and subsequent tsunami claimed more than 16,000 lives. One year later, the recovery efforts continue, as does the mourning.

As much of Japan washed away, the rest of the world experienced the story in images — scenes that showed a nation crippled by the Earth's brute natural forces. And crippled by man-made forces, too: Shortly after the tsunami came news of a meltdown at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan — the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

One year later: Barges can still be seen in unlikely places on land; the search for missing people continues; the damaged nuclear reactor is still leaking. Though according to scientists, it's not enough to be considered a threat.

There has also been progress, which we can see in images, too. The before-and-after juxtaposition shows that from destruction springs resilience.

In one pairing, a boat has found its way to the top of a building, and debris covers the ground entirely; one year later, the debris and the boat have evaporated and what remains is a solitary building on a clean landscape.

The most remarkable pair of images shows, in one frame, a woman wrapped in a blanket, gazing absently at the horizon. A year later, that woman faces the camera with a little boy — on a street that looks ostensibly untouched.

Immediately after the disaster, Yuko Sugimoto had stood shocked and immobile, separated from her son, Raito. He was eventually found safe on the roof of his school. And one year later, they stand together holding hands, smiling.

Interactives by Nelson Hsu

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.