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Philippines' 'Crisis Mappers' on a Mission to Save History

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Heritage Interpreter Ka Bino Guerrero of Cebu City, Philippines, says he remembers the exact moment he felt as if his heart broke.

After the October 15, 2013 Bohol earthquake hit and devastated the Visayas region of the Philippines, Guerrero was hurrying home from the airport when he passed the historic Basilica Minore del Santo Nino de Cebu. He saw that the beautiful bell tower built in 1565 had crumbled. He stopped his car, got out, and took a photograph. Then he began to move from one heritage site to another to document the damage caused by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

Five days later, he and his friends in the Google Communities of the Philippines, a grassroots network of Google mapping enthusiasts across the Philippines, began to plot out the historic sites damaged by the Bohol earthquake as an overlay on Google Maps -- capturing everything from crumpled colonial churches and the collapsed Chocolate Hills.

What began as a private quest, to photograph the sites he knew so well and loved, became a useful tool for relief efforts, particularly when Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) struck three weeks later, pummeling a region already devastated by the quake.

Guerrero and his friends began to add relocation and relief drop-off sites from disaster coordinating councils and media. The Philippines government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) put the map on their website. Major media outlets began referring to it. Guerrero and his co-horts became known as The Crisis Mappers.

Today, the team has become a regular depot for government information and photographs whenever extreme weather bears down on the Philippines. Guerrero, who continues to oversee the effort to preserve his country's heritage, says he does it purely "out of love."

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Reporting for this article was made possible by Rotary International.

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