Google Shows Pre-Katrina Photos for New Orleans

[UPDATE 2-April 1400: see the release of new imagery for New Orleans.]
New Orleans in Google EarthThe recent update to the imagery for Google Earth has caused a bit of an uproar. According to the GEC and my sources at Google, the imagery for New Orleans was actually changed last September. The previous imagery was directly after the storm struck, and was of inferior quality. Although the imagery of New Orleans is from pre-Katrina now, it is of better quality. If you have the Plus or Pro version of Google Earth you have the option to load two sets of post-Katrina imagery by logging out of the primary database. I think Google should consider getting more recent high quality imagery for New Orleans so it at least represents the present condition.

Apparently, Google selected a new set of high resolution photos for New Orleans. The only problem is that the new images are pre-Hurricane Katrina. So, all the damage that was caused by Katrina has now been erased in the Google Earth/Maps imagery database. CBS News says this move has sparked outrage and conspiracy theories in New Orleans. Ironically, the people in New Orleans have been some of the biggest fans of Google Earth as it helped save lives during and after the disaster. And, up until the recent update, residents used the pictures to illustrate damage to insurance adjusters, and to plan reconstruction efforts. Some of the conspiracies are that the local government itself requested the change to try and encourage tourism to come back to New Orleans.
In my opinion, Google should probably have considered the implications of such a change before releasing it in this fashion. Google could easily offer a layer which allows the new or old imagery to be shown. Perhaps this would be a good compromise. Surely, Google still has a copy of the old imagery. Actually, many GE enthusiasts have suggested it would be nice if Google offered a time selection capability on imagery so you could watch the evolution of a place over time from aerial photography.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. We’ve been talking about Google showing pre-Katrina map images over at Highbrid Nation. I’m gonna wait and see before I cry out comspiracy but its looking very suspect.

  2. I suppose if they were attempting to seek out a reaction in the practices of data redaction, then judging by this post and what others have been commenting – they’ve succeeded in raising such a debate.
    Look at the bright side.

  3. Business is about creating profit. Would Google remove the imagery if it was not to turn a profit in some way shape or form? Perhaps Google should re-evaluate the select few within their corporation that are willing to throw global citizens out the back of the boat.

  4. I would love to see a time-series feature in Google Earth. I have spent hours overlaying old (1930s) aerial photos myself.

  5. Does the link below to Google Earth Help Center issue topic address the conspiracy?
    Irony at its best?

  6. I’m hoping that Google will make a “Tour of New Orleans” as part of the Google Global Awareness project. In the same way that the “Appalachian Mountaintop Removal” layer allows viewers to learn about a variety of featured spots in West Virginia, it would be invaluable to see the damage overlay, and to see where each of the recovery projects is or isn’t taking place.

  7. not a conspiracy…i wish people didn’t wear their tinfoil hats so darn tight!

  8. Just got this news release from the House Science Committee:
    (Washington, DC) – Rep. Brad Miller, Chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science & Technology Committee, today asked Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to explain why Google had changed its satellite maps of the New Orleans region to pre-Hurricane Katrina images.
    “If current Google Maps satellite imagery is to be believed, Hurricane Katrina never struck New Orleans, there was never any flooding and thousands of people do not need to be living in trailers because their homes are still habitable,” Miller wrote.
    According to news reports, Google Maps had been showing post-Katrina satellite imagery until recently, but suddenly it began to show images of an undamaged Gulf Coast. Chairman Miller questioned this “resurrection” of New Orleans, and Google’s inability to explain why these changes had been made.
    “New Orleans is a great American city struggling to recover from an unprecedented disaster. Google’s use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history,” Miller wrote in his letter asking for a briefing next week to discuss the reasons for Google’s actions. In particular, he asked if anyone had asked Google to make the image changes.

  9. Does anyone have proof that Google satelite maps actually had the Katrina images. Go to google satellite maps of Ethridge, 75056. This is a suburb north of Dallas. See all that excavated dirt northwest of the road. That has been completely built out w/ houses since 2000 – 2002 timeframe, it’s my neighborhood. Clearly, outdated satellite imagery on google is not out of the ordinary.

  10. Perhaps Google should show pre-9/11 images of Manhattan, with the World Trade Center intact.

  11. i would like to think if i use google earth i would get the latest pics available not 1865 or something they think i would like to look at will not go there from not on bye google hello terra

  12. I’m saddened by this. I was a great fan of Google Earth. I’ll need to contemplate this further before reaching too strong an opinion. Off the top, I feel this just shows that Google isn’t above censorship. I’ve used G.E. many times to look at my home in Diamondhead, MS. Both before and after Katrina.
    This whole idea that they went because of better quality photo’s is false. My home is now of no better resolution than before, in fact the imagery is old enough most of my neighbors homes aren’t even there. It’s only from before Katrina, that’s the only difference, and way before at that. This is very sad to me.
    I guess I just held Google Earth at a standard that they couldn’t meet. I knew of the pressures from the government to falsify certain locations for “security” reasons, but this is nothing more than a political statement. This is censorship in my opinion.
    Maybe if they pretend Katrina never happended it will just go away?
    I was there, I lived it. Katrina.

  13. not a conspiracy…i wish people didn’t wear their tinfoil hats so darn tight!

  14. my name is lori brumfield and i was the one that was there 7nights and 6days.lets make it simple it wasnt the winds kill those people found and ones that never been discovered it was the waters and our poor system that was leadership who failed us we were african americans who were failed because of what our leadership governor and mayor and president who else bring it on it sad that it had to happen likethat indoscent people died for nothing who to blame america who

  15. well….it figures they would restore the images to pre katrina…..i still cannot beleive what happened there…..our government basically left those people there to die… is an outrage to americans……now how can anyone feel they can rely on our government for help in natural disasters…..poeple that were not affected by the disaster blow it off…well they should realize people make up this country…..people need to stick together…our system has failed..and george bush lost both elections…..but is our leader none the less…is america really so free….or are we lead to believe so….

  16. It was mid-late 80s when my “boyfriend” told me New Orleans would not be standing much longer. Another person received some authentic street lamps from Bourbon St. They KNEW that disaster was approaching.
    It was 1991 when I was told that Alan Autry (who was in LA staring as Bubba Skinner in Heat of the Night) was coming to Fresno, CA to fulfill an elected position – no experience, he served as Mayor 2000-08.
    Something very horrible is taking place in the central valley – secret altering of the water system. Now we are being told of a possible Katrina-like disaster in the near future due to weak levees. See my page – is there a connection? Were sewer layouts ever lined up to parcel maps? There lies the answer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.