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Devastating natural disasters as seen from space (pictures)

From the Nepal earthquake to the domestic devastation in Seaside Heights, N.J., these satellite images show just how vicious Mother Nature can be.

Leslie Gornstein
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Disasters as seen from space

Satellites can offer some of the most compelling – and useful – imagery after a natural disaster hits.

Satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe shared these images, starting with that of the Dharahara Tower in Kathmandu, Nepal. This image was taken in October 2014, before an earthquake destroyed much of the region the following April. The tower is visible in the center.

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Dharahara Tower, April 2015

After the Nepal earthquake toppled the 183-year-old tower, a DigitalGlobe satellite captured this image.

"A particularly poignant part of this imagery is that you can see so many people outdoors now," says DigitalGlobe's Kevin Bullock. "It's an indication of people being so scared to be in their homes that they would rather be in the streets."

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Kathmandu, Nepal, October 2014

A green space dominated this satellite image of Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2014, before the earthquake struck.

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Kathmandu, Nepal, April 2015

After the quake, a refugee tent city popped up. Satellite imagery companies such as DigitalGlobe use these images to estimate how many displaced people may be in a given area, allowing disaster volunteers to better plan their relief efforts.

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Seaside Heights N.J., September 2011

DigitalGlobe's image collection documents the changing landscape of billions of square kilometers. Example: the devastation that hit Seaside Heights, N.J., in 2012. This image was taken in 2011, before Hurricane Sandy hit.

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Seaside Heights N.J., November 2012

After Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern seaboard in 2012, large swaths of the Seaside Heights boardwalk were damaged and much of the borough was flooded.

Many of the houses were sturdily built, meaning that they didn't collapse ... but they did drift, like boats, right off of their foundations.

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Outer Banks, North Carolina, June 2011

The Outer Banks area of far eastern North Carolina sits between the Atlantic Ocean and a sound. The strip of land between the bodies of water is vulnerable to hurricanes and other severe weather. This is a section of the Outer Banks before a 2011 storm struck.

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Outer Banks, North Carolina, September 2011

Hurricane Irene made landfall in late August 2011. This is the resulting damage from waves that reached nine feet. The flooding of Highway 12 is clearly seen in this satellite photo.

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Mt. Sinabung, Indonesia

Satellites can capture various wavelengths of light, including those not visible to humans. The satellite that captured this pre-eruption Mt. Sinabung volcano, in Indonesia, collects images in several spectral bands, including infrared.

The red portions of this image are, in reality, green forest.

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Mt. Sinabung, Indonesia, 2014

This infrared satellite photo clearly shows the area of deforestation after the volcano erupted.

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, April 2006

Alabama saw a tornado rip through Tuscaloosa in 2011. Here's what it looked like before the event.

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, April 2011

This DigitalGlobe image shows just how devastating, but compact, a tornado can be. The scar of the tornado is clearly visible, running from southwest to northeast across the image. The tornado, at its largest, was 1.5 miles wide.

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Tacloban City, Philippines, February 2012

Typhoon Haiyan was one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded. It killed more than 6,000 people. Here is how Tacloban City, in the Philippines, looked before the storm.

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Tacloban City, Philippines, November 2013

The storm wiped out many of the city's waterside structures, including homes. By estimating an average of 3-4 people per hut, satellite imaging companies can help calculate the size and scope of a disaster more quickly than via headcount.

Note that the fishing boats–a main source of income for residents here–are gone.

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