Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

Local resident witnesses Katrina’s brute force up close

October 20, 2005

Isabelle, Charlie, Katrina and perhaps, in coming weeks, Wilma.

For most, the names above may inspire fond memories of friends or family. For Basehor resident Brian Martinson, the monikers spark first-hand knowledge of the brute force of Mother Nature.

Martinson, a Basehor resident for the last three years, is a foreman with PAR Electric in Kansas City, Mo. He recently returned from a three-week excursion in New Orleans where he was part of a massive effort to restore power in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

"It was like a movie," said Martinson, who's worked on power lines for the last 23 years. "The whole place was abandoned. ... It just looked like a futuristic movie, like the aliens had come in and (snatched) everybody.

"It was just an eerie feeling to see a whole city and nobody around except police and military."

Katrina wasn't the first hurricane Martinson has worked on, just the worst. Previously, he spent 10 days working in areas crippled by hurricanes Isabelle and Charlie.

Those two seemed like a mild western Kansas windstorm compared to the sheer strength and vengeance of the bomb-like Katrina, he said.

"I've been on several hurricanes and this is the worst damage I've ever seen," he said. "I don't know how you could even compare it."

Martinson, who lives in the Hickory Point subdivision, arrived on the Gulf Coast Aug. 30 and returned home Sept. 21. The first night Martinson and his four-man crew stayed in the ravaged area, they slept in the only lodging available -- their work trucks.

They were later moved to a college dorm and finally, a vacant apartment building.

He and his crew started their work on the city's outer rims before moving into the heart of New Orleans. Police and military had secured the area by the time Martinson's crew went to work, but that didn't comfort many homeowners.

Many homes were boarded up and the barriers were spray painted with warnings bordering on the lyrical, 'If you loot, I will shoot,' to the no-nonsense, 'I will shoot looters.'

Martinson said he and his crew were never in danger. No one was around to harm them; police and military secured the area so well, in fact, that Martinson and crew members were close enough to see Air Force 1 and Marine 1 safely transport the president.

"They had it all secure," Martinson said. "We never saw any residents until we started getting power back on in the neighborhoods."

Working in a depleted area does offer Martinson and other service workers hazard pay, but that's not why he and his colleagues choose to go. Helping with boots on the ground is much more satisfying than donating from a far, he said.

"It's good pay, but it's more of just being able to help," he said. "Everybody kind of wants to help out when they can. We all want to go."

For now, Martinson is back home in Basehor. However, as he's done in the past, Martinson is keeping a watchful eye on the weather channel.

Another name could soon be added to his list: Wilma, a category five hurricane, is brewing in the Caribbean Sea and areas afflicted by her may soon need help in restoring power.

"I think we've known every single one of their names," Martinson said. "You just almost ready yourself."

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