Thinking Tech

Google delivers a God-like view of Haiti destruction

Google delivers a God-like view of Haiti destruction

Posting in Cities

The pictures were taken under partly cloudy conditions, so some views are darkened, and the entire earthquake zone is not yet available under high magnification. But viewing it is still a humbling experience.

Google has updated its satellite views or Port-au-Prince, Haiti, clearly showing the earthquake's devastation and tent cities on any empty ground there is to find.

The pictures were taken under partly cloudy conditions, so some views, like the one at right, are darkened, and the entire earthquake zone is not yet available under high magnification.

But viewing it is still a humbling experience.

I thought of calling this a bird's eye view so as to avoid offense, but that does not do justice to the tech demonstration. You can click around the map on any browser, jumping up or down magnifications, in ways no bird could.

I chose the headline also because the achievement illustrates how helpless we are in the face of disaster. Haitians were quick to invoke the name of God in the wake of what happened, but much of this destruction is man-made.

The severity of the Haiti earthquake barely exceeded that of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, yet the devastation there is total because there is no functioning government and there were no effective building codes. I render unto Caesar responsibility for government and building codes.

The Google views show that while we can see anything, in extreme detail, we do not yet have the power to affect everything, or to alleviate suffering as we would like. This disaster is 10 times worse than Hurricane Katrina, wiping out all authority, and while we're doing all we can it doesn't seem near enough.

Frederick Schiller said it best in his play The Maid of Orleans. Against stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain.

Google's contribution page, which I heartily endorse, looks sad and small next to what its map has delivered. Give what you can, and pray, even if you're an atheist.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure