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Article published Apr 4, 2006
HP fixes Katrina victims' photos
Local man takes part in project to be featured by ABC

Local digital photo experts recently led a team to New Orleans to repair a few hundred photos damaged by Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding.

The photo restoration project, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co., will be featured Thursday on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." ABC producers earlier this year talked to HP's director of marketing, Doug Cole, in Boise, Idaho. ABC and HP wanted to help restore Katrina victims' family photos. Cole then called Bob Gann in Fort Collins for help.

Gann is an imaging systems architect at HP's digital camera sector in Fort Collins. As a volunteer firefighter with the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department in western Larimer County, Gann also understood how important photos are to people affected by disaster.

Gann quickly pulled together a small team. Jeanine Eves of Fort Collins, an HP image-quality engineer for digital scanners, joined Gann and three other HP employees from Colorado Springs, Idaho and Canada.

During the last week of February, the group traveled more than 1,400 miles in an SUV equipped with scanners and computer equipment. They set up shop in an abandoned building that was once a senior center in St. Bernard Parish, several miles east of New Orleans. An estimated 27,000 homes in the area were destroyed.

"Many of the families were left with little more than memories," said Brigida Bergkamp, HP spokeswoman. "Whatever few photos left behind by the storm seemed beyond salvaging."

Within a day of the team's arrival, about 50 families brought photos to Gann's team. Many photos were warped and stuck inside sleeves of photo albums. Some photos were stuck to glass frames. Others were stuck together or water damaged.

Using HP scanners, the five volunteers scanned images for several 12-hour days. About 250 additional volunteer restoration experts from HP offices around the world grabbed the images online and got to work.

"There were more volunteers than photos," Gann said. "I'm sure it was a small fraction of the victims that we helped, but we didn't turn anyone away. Most of the families were surprised we could do what we did."

Within a couple days, the families had their restored photos back. They also received CDs with the photo images on them. In many cases, several versions of each restored photo were made so families could pick the most accurate restoration.

"This wouldn't have happened without Bob and his disaster recovery expertise," Cole said.

The team left their equipment behind with a local resident who will continue photo restoration efforts.

The project came after HP's $3 million donation to Red Cross International last year.

"Other things can be replaced ... but not photos," Cole said.

To prevent loss of photos, Cole and Gann suggested consumers scan images and upload them to online photo processing sites such as Snapfish.com or onto a CD that is kept in a safe deposit box.