[LINK] Google messes with history

Jan Whitaker jwhit at janwhitaker.com
Fri Mar 30 18:47:56 AEST 2007


Google Goes Back to Pre-Katrina Maps

CAIN BURDEAU  |  AP  |  March 29, 2007 10:05 PM EST

NEW ORLEANS — Google's popular map portal has 
replaced post-Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery 
with pictures taken before the storm, leaving 
locals feeling like they're in a time loop and 
even fueling suspicions of a conspiracy.

Scroll across the city and the Mississippi Gulf 
Coast, and everything is back to normal: Marinas 
are filled with boats, bridges are intact and 
parks are filled with healthy, full-bodied trees.

"Come on," said an incredulous Ruston Henry, 
president of the economic development association 
in New Orleans' devastated Lower 9th Ward. "Just 
put in big bold this: 'Google, don't pull the 
wool over the world's eyes. Let the truth shine.'"

Chikai Ohazama, a Google Inc. product manager for 
satellite imagery, said the maps now available 
are the best the company can offer. Numerous 
factors decide what goes into the databases, 
"everything from resolution, to quality, to when 
the actual imagery was acquired."

He said he was not sure when the current images 
replaced views of the city taken after Katrina 
struck Aug. 29, 2005, flooding an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans.

In the images available Thursday, the cranes 
working to fix the breach of the 17th Street 
Canal are gone. Blue tarps that covered roofless 
homes are replaced by shingles. Homes wiped off 
their foundations are miraculously back in place 
in the Lower 9th. So, too, is the historic lighthouse on Lake Pontchartrain.

But in the Lower 9th Ward, the truth isn't as pretty, 19 months after Katrina.

"Everything is missing. The people are missing. Nobody is there," Henry said.

After Katrina, Google's satellite images were in 
high demand among exiles and hurricane victims 
anxious to see whether their homes were damaged.

The new, virtual Potemkin village is fueling the 
imagination of locals frustrated with the slow 
pace of recovery and what they see as attempts by 
political leaders to paint a rosier picture.

Pete Gerica, a fisherman who lives in eastern New 
Orleans, said he printed pictures of his 
waterside homestead from Google to use in his 
arguments with insurance adjusters.

"I think a lot of stuff they're doing right now 
is smoke and mirrors because tourism is so off," 
Gerica said. "It might be somebody's weird spin on things looking better."

Henry also wondered whether Google's motives might be less than pure.

"Is Google part of the conspiracy?" he said. "Why 
these images of pre-Katrina? Seems mighty curious."

Ceeon Quiett, spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin, 
said that as far as she knew, the city did not request the map change.

"My first reaction was, that's a bit problematic," she said.

Ohazama, the Google product manager, said he 
"personally" was not asked by city or state 
officials to change the imagery, but he added 
that Google gets many requests from users and 
governments to update and change its imagery.

Google has become a go-to service for people 
looking for up-close satellite imagery.

"I use it on a regular basis in my class," said 
Craig Colten, a geographer at Louisiana State 
University who has written extensively on New 
Orleans. He called Google's switch "unbelievable."

"I'm sure the mayor is thrilled," he quipped.

Jan Whitaker
JLWhitaker Associates, Melbourne Victoria
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com
personal: http://www.janwhitaker.com/personal/
commentary: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/

'Seed planting is often the most important step. 
Without the seed, there is no plant.' - JW, April 2005
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