Last week, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit Qinghai, a remote Chinese province on the Tibetan plateau—a place so remote that it was days before any reporters made their way there, and reliable information on the catastrophe is still hard to come by. But thankfully, there's Google Maps: Working with GeoEye—a company that runs survey satellites—they've produced some astonishing pre- and post-earthquake images, which reveal the full extent of the damage.
Here's a before shot:
Presumably, those images can be used by humanitarian groups to estimate the work they'd need to do—and Google itself is providing a suite of tools for the affected, including a Crisis Response page; a Person Finder tool, and embeddable Web app that lets people search for information about victims; and a crowd-sourced map where people can contribute information about local conditions. These services are simiar to Google's ongoing response to the Haitian earthquake.
But the most touchy part is the access to Google in China—which of course was the subject of the censorship dust up last month. But the Google does work in mainland China, via a rerouting of searches through Google's Hong Kong home page.
The earthquake services presumably aren't blocked, since so far only sensitive terms fall under the country's notorious firewall restrictions—such as the name of that infamous public gathering place where recent unpleasantness took place in the same year Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True" debuted here in the U.S. (We're blurring specifics so Chinese users won't get blocked from this site.) The one catch might be that Qinghai borders a certain country knowns for its monks and tall mountains (again, see above, rhymes with "Schmibet"), another search term often blocked by China when mixed with the wrong words. On the bright side, following the Sichuan earthquake, China has showed signs of lifting its usual response to natural disasters, which previously had been to restrict news and downplay the effects.
Anyone in China care to give it a try and check it out? All you have to do is hit this link—the rescue services should be available.
UPDATE: Reader Clem says that the link works. Any verification?