Web Maps Offer Info, Aid to Katrina Victims

September 12, 2005

Before Hurricane Katrina, a big oak tree stood in New Orleans resident Billie Baladouni's front yard. Now it appears the tree has fallen on her sun deck.

Still, Baladouni, the associate director for the Loyola Institute for Ministry, takes solace in the fact that she can see the top of her carport, which means that the New Orleans floodwaters didn't reach her second floor.

In the devastating wake of the hurricane, there's nothing especially remarkable about this damage—except for the fact that Baladouni saw it from her daughter's house in Virginia.

More precisely, Baladouni viewed a satellite image of her home via her daughter's computer using Google Maps.

The service—and a host of spin-off sites—are giving displaced residents and others a bird's-eye view of Katrina's aftermath.

Data Mapping

Launched in February, Google Maps is similar to other Web-based map services that offer driving directions or neighborhood layouts.

But instead of calling up a drawn map, the site uses pictures taken from satellites and aircraft to give an aerial view of a territory. Users can search by street address and can zoom in close enough to pinpoint rooftops of individual homes.

Most of the images currently on the site are about a year old. But when Hurricane Katrina hit, Bret Taylor, product manager for Google Maps, and his team began developing an updated version of the New Orleans region.

The new city map uses post-Katrina satellite imagery taken by Google's associate company, Digital Globe, along with images provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Baladouni, the New Orleans resident, says there's something staggering about seeing the full width of the disaster and something even more unsettling about zooming in to your own home.

"This isn't like seeing it on TV where you hope to catch a glimpse of something familiar," she said. "This is closer to taking a walk down the streets."

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