‘The Mailman' and his crew bulldoze through bureaucracy to help victims

Karl “The Mailman” Malone is still delivering, no matter what the weather.

The former NBA all-star and a crew from his logging company in Arkansas spent two weeks in Pascagoula, Miss., hauling away debris left by Hurricane Katrina.

“Everything about this just felt right,” Malone says. “My mom died two years ago, and in our last conversation, she told me that one day I would have to step up on a grand scale and help people. I knew this was it.”

Malone, whose team cleared 114 lots, said he brought 18 vehicles to Pascagoula, including a backhoe, three bulldozers and several RVs for him and his crew.

“We were totally self-contained with our own food and everything,” Malone says. “We didn't want to take even one bottle of water away from these people. When we told them we were doing this for free, they looked at us like we were crazy or something.”

Malone, 42, an experienced truck driver and logger who was born in Bernice, La., spent 12 hours a day behind the wheel of his heavy machinery.

“We started every day at seven in the morning and didn't quit until we got it done,” he says.

When Malone arrived, he says he ran into resistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Army Corps of Engineers officials who said he wasn't authorized to bring his machinery into the area to clear private property.

“There was a lot of red tape, and I ain't got time for that,” he says. “I found out that if you're going to do something good, just go ahead and do it.”

Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, says FEMA and the corps by law could only allow approved contractors to clear debris and that only government agencies could work on “public rights of way.”

Malone says landowners were told that debris had to be moved out to the street before it could be hauled away. “How is a landowner who just lost everything going to pay $15,000 or $20,000 to have a lot cleared? I mean, there were two or three houses on top of one another in some places.”

This put Malone in the middle of territorial disputes with private contractors.

“We had one guy come up to us and tell us to go to another neighborhood and that these people could afford to pay,” Malone says. “I told him, ‘Why should they pay? They just lost everything.' ”

Bringing the kind of hardboiled attitude to philanthropy that made him a much-feared power-forward during 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz and one with the Los Angeles Lakers, Malone decided to stay right where he was.

“Once I get in my machine, no one is going to get me out,” he says. “We just said ‘the hell with it.' FEMA didn't approve, but we did it for the people.”

Steve Glenn, a FEMA official in Mississippi, said rules regarding clearing debris on private property exist to protect individuals' rights: “We can't just go onto private property on a whim.”

But Steve Mitchell, a public works official in Pascagoula, says Malone's crew performed a valuable service for the community.

“Our view was, more power to you,” Mitchell says. “If he got resistance, he didn't get it from us. I wish I had known about the trouble he had. I wish he were still here. Essentially, we just said ‘bless his heart.' ”

Through it all, Malone said he and his men could not help but feel the joy begin to grow around them. “There are these American flags everywhere, and people have unbelievably big smiles,” Malone says. “The feeling was a high that all the guys got.”