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 user 2005-09-14 at 11:27:00 am Views: 37
  • #12563

    Katrina Up Close: Lexmark Exec Recounts Relief Mission

    The director of U.S.
    product and solutions marketing for the company describes six days on
    the Gulf Coast helping friends and family around his childhood home
    recover from the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

    Mark Barnett left Lexington, Ky., on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 30,
    in a 2005 Nissan pickup truck loaded down with five generators, 45
    extra gallons of fuel, 24 bags of ice, 14 gallons of drinking water,
    nine extension cords and a desire to make a difference.

    Barnett, director of U.S. product and solutions marketing at Lexmark,
    spent six days on the Gulf Coast helping friends and family around his
    childhood home of Brookhaven, Miss., recover from the wrath of
    Hurricane Katrina. His supplies brought power back to several homes of
    the sick and the elderly, many of whom broke down in tears they were so
    thankful for the help.

    “The experience is something very difficult to put into words,” Barnett
    wrote in an e-mail to CRN. “What I saw was absolutely devastating, but
    at the same time I witnessed the best humanity has to offer.”

    There are a number of enduring images Barnett won’t soon forget:
    abandoned cars littering an interstate highway, a young man stepping
    from his truck with a machine gun, police officers on patrol at gas
    stations with mile-long lines of cars and the good will of hundreds of

    Barnett made the 700-mile journey in about 10 hours and shared his
    experience in e-mails back home to Lexmark co-workers. The following
    material is culled from those messages as well as e-mails to CRN. His
    story illustrates the struggles still facing thousands of residents in
    Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as well as the help that’s on the

    He arrived in Brookhaven, Miss., around 4:30 a.m. and immediately
    started setting up the generators he brought with him to several homes.
    Luckily, his parents’ house, his brother Paul’s house and two other
    homes had limited electricity, which provided some creature comforts:
    lights, a fan, fresh water, and a DSL modem to connect to the outside

    “We can’t run the stove, nor the air conditioner. We’re still working
    on that problem,” Barnett wrote in his first e-mail last week. “First
    things first, Paul and I are leaving in a few minutes to deliver and
    set up a generator for a lady on dialysis. She has no electricity, so
    it is a dire situation. After that, it’s off to the next-door neighbors
    to set up another generator we need to save her freezer and get the
    refrigerator running. She is a widow, living alone. Not a good time, to
    be sure.”

    On the way, Barnett observed the surreal state of a region he once knew
    so differently. “There is virtually no gas to be had. I pulled off in
    Jackson [Miss.], where I spotted one station open. There were five
    police cars there, as they were directing what was probably 75 or so
    cars in a line waiting. There are cars all along the interstate that
    have run out of fuel. Even where the pumps are dry or the electricity
    is off, people are camped out in their cars waiting,” he said.

    He had stopped several times for gas on the way down and still had half
    a tank when he arrived in Brookhaven. The 45 extra gallons he brought
    were reserved to run the generators, he said.

    “When we arrived in Brookhaven, it was not as bad as I had envisioned.
    On the main boulevard, there are actually lights. There is moderate
    damage to buildings. Most of the damage is to signage. Whether store
    signs or street signs, they are bent and broken,” Barnett wrote. “In
    the early [morning], there was a line outside Wal-Mart with people
    waiting for it to open at 6 a.m. The shelves are bare of food. There is
    a Save-A-Lot grocery next door. We thought the store was closed, as the
    shelves were empty.”

    Barnett’s optimism stopped when he reached the neighborhoods of
    Brookhaven, a small rural community of less than 10,000, about 40 miles
    from the Louisiana state line off Interstate 55.

    “When you get in the neighborhoods, it is a completely different story.
    Huge trees are down. Many homes are damaged or destroyed. Power lines
    are laying broken everywhere. You have to be very careful where you
    step, and you must drive very slowly and carefully. It’s a bit hairy,”
    he said. “Many streets are impassable. Getting to my folks house was
    like driving through a rat maze. When we are done with delivering
    essential services today, we will turn attention toward cleanup. It’s a
    good thing I brought the food. Paul has 18 refugees at his house,
    including Paul Schmidt [a public-sector account manager at Lexmark] and
    his family.” Despite the circumstances, most people are in a good mood
    and seek to comfort each other, Barnett reported. “They are, of course,
    concerned about family and friends. Most of the 18 [refugees] are now
    homeless. It is inspirational to see the way these folks are facing
    such adversity. Where do they get the strength? It brings tears to my
    eyes to just think about it,” he wrote.

    Still, he added, “There is very good news. Everyone is healthy. There
    are solid roofs overhead. Everyone is clothed, and bellies are full. I
    guess it just doesn’t get any better. And to top it off, the sun is

    Barnett fell asleep Wednesday with his notebook PC in his lap and a
    promise to his parents that he would refuel the generators to keep them
    going through the night. But he awoke with a start and to a deafening
    silence. “The generators had run out of fuel. I rushed outside,
    refueled and thankfully had no problems restarting them,” he said.

    Later on Thursday, the fourth day after Katrina struck, Barnett sent a
    second e-mail. The first signs of outside help appeared as more than
    300 electricians arrived in Brookhaven to begin the long process of
    rebuilding the town. “They have made a huge difference. Trucks are
    everywhere. The sound of chainsaws is in the air. It is a glorious
    sound,” he wrote.

    But Barnett and his family found they still were able to reach many
    people before the rescue crews. Later that day, he retrieved two of his
    generators from homes where electricity was restored and redeployed
    them, including one at the home of an elderly widow whose food had

    “I also provided ice. To say she was grateful was an understatement.
    She had her first glass of cold water in four days,” he said. “After a
    bit of rewiring at the junction box, the generator was hooked up and
    the house was alive again. The stove worked, so she could again cook.
    The refrigerator and freezer worked, so she can stock food. The fans
    worked, so she can cool off.”

    The woman had been told by public officials that she would be one of
    the last in town to have electricity restored because of the severe
    damage around her house, which means she may not have electricity for
    more than two weeks, Barnett said. “The lack of electricity for many is
    causing severe hardship. Food is spoiling. There is no drinking water.
    Many people in this rural community rely on well water. You need
    electricity for the pumps. The heat is punishing. The young, old and
    infirm are struggling,” he wrote.

    Barnett and another man, the brother-in-law of Lexmark’s Schmidt, then
    climbed to the woman’s roof with a chainsaw to cut down a large branch
    of an oak tree that fell on the house. “It was good work, and I am
    better for it,” Barnett said. “My brother Paul took the other generator
    and set it up for a lady who has a severe respiratory problem. She uses
    a machine to assist with her breathing. The generator was a life saver
    for her.”

    That afternoon, Barnett heard that power had been restored to another
    house where he had set up a generator. That allowed him to redeploy a
    third machine. “This one went to a household where a mother and son
    live. The mother has a brain tumor, and the son recently had a severe
    car accident and is bed-ridden. Can you think of a better use?” he

    Barnett’s brother Paul drove to Jackson, Miss., where he had arranged
    to buy an industrial ice machine. They installed the machine in Paul’s
    car dealership and gave away ice to anyone who needed it.

    Meanwhile, crews cleared trees from the streets, including a small
    highway running through town. Barnett asked one man how long it would
    be before electricity was restored along the route. “We were told it
    would be several days. The primary holdback: They are out of telephone
    poles and are waiting for more to be shipped in,” he said. “Wow! Who
    would have thought about that?” By Thursday, local fuel supplies also
    were running out, and people’s nerves began to fray as the trying
    conditions in the steamy state began to take their toll.

    “What few stations have fuel now have lines stretching well over a
    mile,” Barnett wrote. “Police are stationed at the pumps. Even with
    that, there has been violence right here in little ol’ Brookhaven,
    Miss. I don’t know the details, but apparently there was gun play this
    morning over fuel. I don’t think anyone was hurt, but fear has been put
    into this community,” Barnett wrote.

    People were becoming desperate, he added. “People can’t get to work
    because of lack of fuel. Any optional expense is cut. This further
    reduces the work available. As each moment passes, the majority of the
    population find themselves virtually unemployed. It has created a very
    real sense of despair and fear,” he said. “I see people arming
    themselves. I watched a 21-year-old boy step from a truck with an AK-47
    slung over his shoulder. As I watched, he loaded 30 rounds into the
    clip. He fired a quick, three-round burst to test the weapon. I could
    only think of Baghdad. What is the world coming to?”

    Barnett spent much of the afternoon delivering fuel for generators.
    “Many of the people we have provided for simply don’t have the ability
    to refuel. So we shuttle back and forth, keeping them up and running,”
    he wrote. “I have seen quite a few refugee buses today. They are coming
    to an old armory here, where makeshift cots are setup. I don’t know if
    it is a stopover or a permanent stop. The buses just keep coming. I saw
    one today surrounded by three fire trucks, two police cars and one
    ambulance. You have to wonder what happened. It can’t be good.”

    Later that night, when Barnett returned to his parents’ house, he saw
    an American Red Cross van turning around in one driveway and flickering
    lights in the upstairs window of a neighbor. It brought relief and the
    first step toward resuming a more normal life.

    “Then a street lamp flickered to life. Electricity had returned! I
    rushed into the house, shouting for joy,” he said. “We called [Paul
    Schmidt’s] brother-in-law, who came over and rewired the junction box
    to put us back on the grid. As I type this, we have full electricity.
    The air conditioners are running, and life is wonderful.”

    The next morning, Barnett packed up and began the long drive home to
    Lexington, but not before one final stop near New Orleans to deliver a
    generator, fuel, ice and fresh water to John O’Sullivan, a solutions
    architect for Lexmark.

    “I have a pass from the Mississippi legislature designating me as an
    ‘aid mission.’ This should allow me to pass through the roadblocks,”
    Barnett wrote before leaving. “I will admit, I am a bit apprehensive in
    light of the news from New Orleans. But if nothing else, perhaps I can
    offer some a ride out of the nightmare they are currently living.”

    He closed the second e-mail by writing, “Thank you for keeping the
    people of Mississippi and Louisiana in your hearts and prayers. Thank
    you also for your generosity in helping them to recover. They need help
    more than you can imagine. Take care. Good Night. Mark Barnett.”

    This week, Barnett said he planned to return to Mississippi on Friday with a truckload of supplies from the Red Cross.

    “I spoke with them [Wednesday], and they are in need of many of the
    basics: wash cloths, towels, sheets, pillowcases, soap, shampoo,
    deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc. I am collecting this week and
    will be on my way,” he wrote in an e-mail to CRN. “In the meantime,
    friends at Lexmark have arranged for a large drive in coordination with
    the local United Way. So many people are mobilized. It is great to see
    everyone working together for the common good.