Photos show devastation from Japan quakes in 2011 and 2016, not after New Year's Day tremor

  • Published on January 11, 2024 at 10:11
  • 4 min read
  • By AFP Pakistan
Following a 7.5-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan's western coast on New Year's Day, posts on social media platform X have shared photos they falsely claim show damage caused by the tremor. While the jolt and its powerful aftershocks flattened houses and wrecked infrastructure, reverse image searches show the photos in the posts were in fact taken after devastating Japan quakes in March 2011 and April 2016.

The photos of collapsed homes surrounded by rubble and cracked and sunken roads were shared on social media platform X here on January 2, 2024.

The caption to the photos partly reads: "My heartfelt condolences to the people of Japan amidst the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. May strength, kindness and support surround you during this challenging time."

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Screenshot of the false X post, captured on January 8, 2024

The photos were also elsewhere on X here, here and here.

The posts surfaced a day after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake -- recorded as 7.6 by Japan's weather office -- that has killed at least 203 people in the central Ishikawa region.

The quake destroyed and toppled buildings, caused fires and knocked out infrastructure on the Noto Peninsula on the main island of Honshu.

Blocked roads and poor weather have hampered efforts to clear the wreckage and reach almost 3,500 people still stuck in isolated communities.

Reverse image searches on Google and TinEye, however, found the photos circulating on social media do not show damage from the January 1 tremor.

Earlier earthquakes

The picture of a house surrounded by rubble was used in an article by US broadcaster NPR here on March 17, 2011 (archived link).

The article was published after a monster 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 that left around 18,500 people dead or missing and caused a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima power plant.

The photo's caption reads: "The wreckage of a house amid debris in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture, in Japan." It is credited to an AFP photographer, and can also be found in AFP's photo archives here.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the falsely shared photo (left) and the AFP image (right):

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Screenshot comparison of the falsely shared photo (left) and the AFP image (right)

The photo showing a ship grounded between destroyed buildings as smoke rises in the background was used in a National Geographic photo essay from March 10, 2012 titled, "Photos: Where Will Next Mega-Tsunami Hit? (Japan Quake Anniversary)" (archived link).

The photo is credited as being from the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), and can be found in the agency's archives here (archived link).

It is captioned: "Burning houses and ships piled amidst Tsunami flood water in a mass of debris in Kisenuma city, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, 12 March 2011."

Below is a screenshot comparison between the falsely shared photo (left) and the EPA image (right):

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Screenshot comparison between the falsely shared photo (left) and the EPA image (right)

Meanwhile, a low-angle photo of a partially collapsed house next to a damaged road was used by NBC News here on April 15, 2016 in an article titled "Japan earthquake: daylight shows extent of damage After 9 Killed" (archived link).

Southern Japan was struck by powerful twin earthquakes in April 2016, triggering deadly landslides and reducing buildings to rubble.

The photo is credited to the Associated Press (AP) news agency, and can be found on their photo archive here (archived link).

Below is a screenshot comparison between the falsely shared photo (left) and the AP image (right):

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Screenshot comparison between the falsely shared photo (left) and the AP image (right)

The final image showing several damaged homes was used in an article published by India Today here on April 16, 2016 (archived link).

The article, titled "Japan earthquakes kill 32, residents still trapped", was written by AP.

Part of the photo's caption reads: "Damaged houses sit after an earthquake in Mashiki, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan Saturday, April 16, 2016." It can be found on the AP photo archive here (archived link).

Below is a screenshot comparison between the falsely shared photo (left) and the AP image (right):

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Screenshot comparison between the falsely shared photo (left) and the AP image (right)

Misinformation easily spreads following natural disasters, and AFP has previously debunked posts that linked photos and videos of earlier earthquakes to the most recent quake in Japan here, here and here.

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