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'In 24 hours we had reunited 11 families'

By Mac Dearman for CNN

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Mac Dearman: "We did what we could but there's a lot we couldn't do because we didn't have the financing."

LIFE-CHANGING TECH

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

Hurricane Katrina
Technology (general)

(CNN) -- Mac Dearman, 43, lives in Rayville, Louisiana and works as a wireless Internet service provider. He has been providing relief, including food, clothing as well as Internet and Internet-based phone access to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, working entirely with donated labor and equipment.

The Wednesday after Hurricane Katrina hit, I was driving past the local church and noticed the car park was full. I knew that wasn't right for a Wednesday so I went in to see what was going on. I soon realized it was full of Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans.

There were about 100 people in there sprawled all over the place. Some were crying at the thought they had lost everything -- others had been separated from family members during the evacuation.

I asked someone if there was a telephone in the church and they said no. I went home and got my seven VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) telephones that I use to run my business.

I installed a high-speed Internet connection in the church, which gave the evacuees Internet access as well as phones to use. Within 24 hours, we had reunited 11 families.

Then I heard about another shelter about 25 miles away from our home. So we went to a store and got more phones -- everything I have deployed has been donated in one way or another. In total there were seven shelters in our local area that I have helped give communication access to all of them.

A couple of weeks ago one shelter closed so I went and picked up my gear. The next day Hurricane Rita hit and it was full again so my wife, Sharon, dropped the gear back off. Today, every shelter we helped set up still has people in it.

I am amazed at the resilience of the people here in Southern Mississippi. I see the new walls going up on old slabs, yards being cleaned at an incredible rate and tents set up on old house sites as they try to do some of the work themselves.

I feel the most sorrow for the elderly, as they are too old to start all over and most times lack the "spunk" to even try. I am not sure of their futures and I know they feel the same way. Most of them cry more over their lost pictures of children and parents, brothers and sisters who have passed on. They were around before this digital age where we now save our photos to a disc.

I haven't had a day off in the past month. We have made a difference to a lot of lives and it's been worth every sacrifice. We did what we could but there's a lot we couldn't do because we didn't have the financing. Next time we will be more prepared -- with Federal funding, I could light up the whole of Southern Mississippi within 24 hours using a high-speed Internet connection.

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